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Missouri National Guard practices chemical disaster procedures

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | 7:50 p.m. CDT
United States Army Specialist Joel Chapman is lowered into an opening in the concrete by other members of the Search and Rescue Team as part of an exercise in search and extraction at the Missouri National Guard Armory on Wednesday, May 18. Chapman is part of the 117th Asphalt Engineer Team out of Monett.

COLUMBIA — Seventy-one guardsmen climbed over a giant wreckage composed of crushed buses, cement cylinders and rusted scrap metal in an effort to rescue trapped mannequins.

Guardsmen from five different units of the Missouri National Guard practiced emergency procedures Wednesday at the Boone County Task Force 1 training grounds to prepare for natural or man-made disasters.

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The role of the guardsmen is to assist first-responders in stabilizing an area struck with a catastrophe — such as an earthquake or a nuclear explosion — too big for police, firefighters and emergency management teams to handle alone.

Wednesday's hypothetical mission specifically involved a wrecked chemical plant, Operations Officer Daniel Thompson said.

"We received the mission that the chemical plant blew up," Thompson said. "The first-responders were exhausted, so we came to relieve them and take over responsibility."

Once the guardsmen arrive on the scene of a disaster, Thompson said, the next step is to begin procedures to rescue the wounded and recover the dead.

In a real chemical disaster, the wounded and dead are sent to decontamination centers, Thompson said. Casualties are then stabilized by medical personnel in the triage before being sent to hospitals. 

"We have nurses, doctors and public health officials ready to go," Air Guard Major Kim Smith said. "Anything in the back of an ambulance, the triage has."

Gaining familiarity with medical equipment is one purpose of the training events, Smith said. The implementation of all the elements of a disaster relief mission is why the training is vital, she said.

"All relationships are forged now as opposed to during a real-life emergency where everyone's trying to figure out who does what. It's good for building cohesiveness," Smith said.

Wednesday was day three out of 14 devoted to the National Guard's annual training requirement.

Normally the five units train separately.

“The units don’t get together to do hands-on training often, so this is better training than they get to do on a month-to-month basis,” Thompson said.

One way the guardsmen practiced their efficiency for using the equipment was by learning new knots, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Pruitt said.

The anchor knot, for example, is used for rope-security when disaster victims are being pulled from the rubble, Pruitt said.

Along with technical skills, Pruitt said teamwork improved too.

“You work and sleep with the same guys and you get to know and trust each other,” Pruitt said. “We’re learning at the same time.”

Although they were only rescuing mannequins, they acted as if they were saving civilians.

“We only have a moment’s notice to save lives when it’s for real,” Williams said. “We have to take it seriously."


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