COLUMBIA, S.C. – In the middle of hurricane season, a unique team of civilian firefighters and Army National Guard helicopter crews work together to hone rescue skills at a school called HART Academy.
The Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Teams (HART), a state-developed emergency response asset, deploys to fly in the harshest environments and bring first responders to rescue citizens in need.
“We combine the [special operations] of firefighters with the best of Army aviation,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Sean Reynolds, South Carolina National Guard helicopter pilot and program manager for the new academy. “Together, we build a capability that cannot be matched.”
Instructor teams from Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina are taking their experiences as seasoned rescue crews and starting multistate emergency response training, coined HART Academy. Rescue teams from other states will learn core training in the fundamentals of rescue program management, risk mitigation and crew coordination.
“We are developing a common national standard to measure HART’s capability and proficiency with the blend of National Guard and rescue technician training,” said Reynolds.
The curriculum for rescue crews includes coordination, safety, operations in-flight, deployment and extraction of rescue technicians, equipment familiarization, and the importance of bridging communications for search and rescue missions.
Indiana National Guard Soldiers from Charlie Company, 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion and three rescue technicians from South Bend swift-water rescue completed the initial core training and were deployed to South Carolina in response to Hurricane Dorian.
The team integrated with South Carolina Army National Guard aviators to respond if needed using the common operating standard they learned at the academy.
“We were able to bring in the civilian rescue technician component from Indiana and operate in an Army aircraft, which is an intent of the academy,” said Reynolds. “After the initial in-briefs, a rehearsal, coupled with their training (at the HART academy), the crew was prepared to operate in the back of an Army aircraft. They knew the standard we operate by, my expectations of them, and their expectations of me were the same.”
Indiana is now starting its own state HART program.
“As aviators, we have to step our game up,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Todd Overbeck, Indiana National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief. “We looked at what we could do to be more effective state-side that would also help our military mission. The HART concept gives us something to train for to respond to domestic operations, but also build our skills for overseas deployments.”
HART Academy will teach advanced training, such as swift water rescue, mountain rescue, open water and wide-area search and rescue, in different states. The academy will also have a program management course. A safety and standardization committee will address more complex rescue issues.
“Training with civilian first responders has some language barriers,” said Overbeck. “They have different ways of talking, using different hand signals, and we have to find a balance between military and civilian jargons. We have seen a lot of different ideas at the academy and we see where we can incorporate the training into our procedures for environments we operate in.”
The 59th Aviation Troop Command, South Carolina National Guard, hosts the HART Academy, partnered with South Carolina Emergency Management, South Carolina Fire Academy, and HART programs from Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“South Carolina is taking the program forward,” said Reynolds. “And we are building the right team to realize the academy’s vision.”