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The Wisconsin National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team (CST) is lending a helping hand to the state’s top hazardous materials (hazmat) teams as they work to validate their skills and equipment to be ready to respond to the most serious chemical spills and events that could occur in Wisconsin.

In early July, the CST conducted three days of intensive training focused on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) scenarios for the City of Milwaukee Hazardous Materials Response Team. This training helped them become certified as a Type I team in the State of Wisconsin. The CST plans to conduct a similar training with the Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls Hazardous Materials Team which is the other designated Type I team in the state.

The 54th CST is the Wisconsin National Guard’s full-time response team for emergencies or terrorist events that involve WMDs, toxic industrial chemicals or natural disasters. The unit, based in Madison, Wisconsin, is designed to rapidly deploy, assist local first-responders in determining the nature of an attack or hazardous materials scenario, and provide medical, communications, technical support and advice.

Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature approved changes to the state’s hazmat system in July 2013, resulting in a new three-tiered classification system for hazardous materials response based on the National Incident Management System (NIMS) standards. According to Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM), all hazmat teams in the state are certified to respond to known chemical emergencies such as ammonia, chlorine or ethanol spills. The difference between the Type I, Type II, and Type III teams is the different equipment, capabilities and training requirements.

Currently, Wisconsin has 15 Type III teams located across the state that are certified. These teams provide protection and detection for releases on known chemical substances. These would include spills from transportation accidents and gas releases from storage tanks.

The Type II teams are not only qualified to respond to known chemical releases but also have training and equipment to respond to unknown substances. They also have specific equipment that is designed to classify and identify hazardous materials.

For the most serious of spills and releases that requires the highest level of skin and respiratory protective gear, including a response to a WMD event, the state has two Type I teams. The Milwaukee and the Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls Type I teams are able to respond anywhere in the state in less than 3 hours of notification. The State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services assisted in the development of protocols for the Type I teams in responding to a radiological event.

To help with the certification of the new Type I teams, WEM requested the CST to assist in the training. According to WEM’s Hazardous Materials Coordinator Frank Docimo, the CST is able to help with equipment, standard operating procedures and guidelines as well as training and assessment.

“What we’ve learned in the last two years is that the CST is one of the best teams in the nation. They are helping tremendously – not only with the training,” Docimo said.

Docimo has been working closely with Lt. Col. David May, the commander of the 54th CST to certify the standardized equipment list for the three tiers, develop standard operating procedures and guidelines as well as training and assessment. The involvement has proven valuable for the CST as well.

“Building those relationships is only going to help in the future when we operate together,” May said. “The opportunity to go in and train with them (the Type I teams) has really renewed some relationships, from the battalion chief level all the way down to the team level.”

The relationship has already blossomed to the point where members of Milwaukee’s Hazardous Material Response Team have gone on training missions with the CST outside the state, and the unit routinely trains with other first responder agencies. May hopes to continue building relationships with the hazmat teams. The CST’s priority is to train with each team in the state once a year and additional exercises and training with the Type II and Type I teams.

“That kind of partnership really deepens the trust and familiarity that allows us to operate together seamlessly,” May said.