CAMP HORIZON, BIRCH BAY, Wash. --
Sailors and Marines with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), II Marine Expeditionary Force, community emergency service members, and civilian volunteers took part in a national-level mass casualty exercise in and around Bellingham, Wash., May 7. CBIRF is designed to respond to incidents, whether biological, radiological, high-yield explosives, or nuclear, in order to assist local, state, or federal agencies and designated combatant commanders in the conduct of consequence management operations.
CBIRF, based out of the Washington, D.C., area, is capable of conducting agent detection and identification, casualty search-and-rescue operations, personnel decontamination, and emergency medical care and stabilization of victims in a contaminated environment.
“My Marines and Sailors are doing outstanding today; this is a great opportunity for them to train,” said CBIRF Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Michael Rohlfs. “We at CBIRF train daily and part of that is ensuring that we are ready for the unexpected, and making sure that our Marines and Sailors are prepared for any mission. Part of that preparedness is not only training internally, but also with the civilian first responders. More than 140 people are prepared to support the incident commander with everything from decontamination, to tech rescue, to explosive ordnance disposal.”
CBIRF, working alongside emergency medical services teams, worked tirelessly for hours in hazardous material suits to search out, extract, and care for patients in and around Camp Horizon, the site of the simulated attack.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before, I usually work on jets,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic (AW) Chad Petersen, of Fleet Readiness Center, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and also volunteers as a North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Team Firefigher. “It worked out pretty well, transferring patient care between us and the Marines. This shows that we are not just about warfighting, that we care what is going on in our hometowns.”
The exercise, monitored and graded by White Cell, Northern Army Command, was a success, and showed that with increased training and communications, local and federal emergency management assets can work together to save lives.
“It ‘s important that the community sees that we are working together, in one effort in support of their local authorities,” said Ron Hessdorerfer, White Cell exercise judge and planner. “They are the ones who are actually in charge; they also see that we are capable of response. The whole purpose of this exercise is to train to save lives, mitigate suffering, and try to protect property as much as we can.”
During the exercise, the Lynden fairgrounds and Bellingham’s regional St. Joseph’s hospital were also used as casualty collection points and trauma centers. Volunteers from three local area high schools played the part of casualties, complete with fake blood, guts, and the occasional missing limb for realism.
“It’s important to have an exercise like this to educate the civilians and the civil authorities that are going to get involved,” said Chief Damage Controlman (SW/AW) Richard Devlin, Naval Station Everett, who was embedded with CBIRF due to his Navy training. “The biggest lesson learned from things like (Hurricane) Katrina and 9/11 is that when dealing with communication between civilians and military, everybody needs to be on the same page, as far as the terms and abbreviations that are in common use.”