MADISON, Wis. – Though they hope to never have to use these skills, Airmen from across the 115th Fighter Wing recently completed certification that allows them to decontaminate, triage, stabilize and prepare to transport up to 100 people in the event of chemical, biological or radiological contamination on base.
The team certification is part of a national requirement to have counter-contaminant programs in place at all active and reserve component Air Force bases. The threat of contamination could result from an intentional attack, major accident, natural disaster, hazardous material spill or an inadvertent industrial accident.
The 976A Patient Decontamination certification came after a week of class time. The group was put to the test on their final day of training and proved to their instructor they could set up a complete decontamination area in less than 20 minutes.
“It’s a one-time certification and then it’s up to them to accomplish their yearly training requirements,” said Alex Ibarra, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training specialist. “I certify them as a train-the-trainer, so anyone of them could train another Airman.”
In a real incident, 100 percent decontamination might not be possible, but the goal is to reduce patient contamination to the point where they are not a hazard to themselves, other patients or personnel.
By keeping at least 12 people on the team at all times, they can accomplish their mission.
“Our goal is to save lives through decon by priority of order,” Ibarra said. “We make sure they are clean through the process and then ensure they are able to be transported – as a clean patient – to definitive care.”
The 976A team is made up of people from different areas of the base, so that base personnel affected by a chemical situation don’t have to wait for the firefighters and security forces units to be available. If an actual emergency occurred, the firefighters and security forces Airmen would be required elsewhere.
“Each group and squadron on base sacrificed some of their personnel to be able to come in and help us out with this package,” said Chief Master Sgt. Brian L. Steffen, 976A team manager. “This is another tool the commander has in an emergency event where he can actually use our resources to help save or protect resources and people here on the base.”
After only two rehearsals the group was put to the test. They put up the tent and decontamination water sprayers, set out garbage cans, and were operational in 19 minutes, 40 seconds. If they hadn’t beaten the 20 minute time standard, they would have had to continue testing.
“I thought it went really well,” Steffen said. “I’m very proud of everyone who was here. They showed a lot of urgency and were still safe when doing it. A job well done to all the members.”