Fort McCoy News November 14, 2014

Search, Rescue Team holds exercise at Fort McCoy

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

More than 60 firefighters from Wisconsin Task Force One (WI-TF1) Urban Search and Rescue Team were at Fort McCoy for a late-October, 72-hour operational readiness exercise (ORE) to test skills and train on objectives.

Photo 1 for Search and Rescue article
Members of the Wisconsin Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team participate in a training scenario Oct. 21 at the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility on Fort McCoy's South Post.

WI-TF1 held the exercise at the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility (CACTF). Task Force Leader Frank Devine said the CACTF at Fort McCoy was an optimal place to train for the training scenario, which called for simulated widespread storms and a tornado hitting a small town while a fall street dance was taking place.

"Using the CACTF allows for a wide-area search in our training," said Devine, who also serves on the La Crosse (Wis.) Fire Department.

"It's different from where we normally train, and, anytime you can take the (team members) out of what they are used to doing, it is a great learning experience for all of them."

WI-TF1, based at Volk Field, Wis., is designed to provide a coordinated response to disasters in urban environments, such as extricating victims trapped in collapsed structures, confined spaces, or trenches in largely populated areas, according to the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management. The task force can respond to state and national disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, widespread tornadoes and man-made technological and terrorist events.

Devine explained why they hold the exercise.

"Once a year we try to have one full-scale exercise," Devine said. "For an ORE, everybody deploys to our home base at Volk Field, goes through a mobilization process, we do our medical checks, load the cache and transportation, and we get on the road. Our goal from the time of deployment to out the door with all of our equipment and people is six hours, and our goal to arrive at the majority of places in Wisconsin is within eight hours."

Photo 2 for Search and Rescue article
Wisconsin Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team members prepare a simulated victim for an extraction from a building as part of a training scenario.

The team set up its base of operations on the CACTF grounds. "We are sustainable for a minimum of 72 hours," Devine said. "We bring our own shelter, beds, heating and air conditioning, bathrooms and other necessities."

WI-TF1 is staffed by people from all across the state as well.

"We have firefighters from Milwaukee, Madison, Janesville, Beloit, Antigo, Superior, Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay and Neenah-Menasha and more," Devine said. "Overall, we have about 12 different fire departments involved."

Communications Specialist John McManus set up the team's self-sufficient communication network for the exercise.

"We have to make a working system that covers an entire area of operations out of nothing," said McManus, a 20-year firefighter from Janesville who has been on the team for nearly 10 years. "Because we have to be self-sufficient and have a reliable system, it can sometimes be a challenge."

Three communications specialists deployed with the team for the Fort McCoy exercise where McManus said they were busiest at the beginning of their training. During that time, they create radio and cellular connections for operations. "We have to make sure the coverage area is properly set up and we have to make sure forward operating bases are properly set up for communication," he said.

WI-TF1 Rescue Officer Matt Trepczyk of Milwaukee said being able to expand his training capability at Fort McCoy was beneficial.

"As a rescue officer, I'm learning to manage a group of people and place my requests (for rescue equipment) up through the team manager," Trepsczyk said. "This exercise helped build those skills."

Trepczyk described the CACTF as "an awesome facility."

"It's nice to be in such a large area where we have the ability to spread-out our whole team," Trepczyk said. "There are a variety of buildings here where we can go in and do different things."

Devine said the training went well, and in the future, he hopes to see search-and-rescue teams from other states have exercises at Fort McCoy.

"The staff (at Fort McCoy) is excellent," Devine said. "Everything we asked for they provided. After this, I'm going to talk to some teams from other states to see if they can come here for some of their exercises, as well."

For more information about WI-TF1, visit their website at http://wi-tf1.wi.gov.