Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fairfax County CERT and the US army do it again!

Hi folks!
Andrew's post refers to the exercise we participated in last night. The exercise was held by the US army's 911th engineer company at the old Lorton Youth prison. We were victims for their full scale exercise, and needless to say we had a blast!
We were placed as victims in a room at one end of the old gym; the building is U shaped and the 911th rescuers had to tunnel through probably 400 feet of debris to get to us. They started tunneling at 12 noon on Monday, and "broke through" to us at 745pm last night. It took them 18 hours just to get through the debris; shoring up the collapsed building as they went.
When they finally broke through (the sounds of sawsall saws announced their presence) bedlam ensued! We were in a room and Patty was in the corner hollering, Kevin was screaming about his" broken leg"; Andrew was as usual offering to help the rescuers; Jack was walking wounded and Susy looked like a power cord was sticking out of her shoulder. Jon was confused and I had a wedge of wood in my chest and was hidden from the rest of the room.
The rescuers got the people out; they missed me the first time and their controllers YELLED at them on several occasions too. I mean bellowing at the top of his lungs!!! yelling; when somebody messes up in the army EVERYONE knows about it. Their entire radio net was a 3 minute harangue on missing a victim and buddies not staying together.( Sound familiar? Buddies being seperated in this place could potentially mean DEAD buddies) It was viscious; but those troops learned from it ( or lost their hearing from the yelling!)
They came right back in and found me; I had an impalement, and couldn't move my legs. I was also pretty well wedged in the spot where a simple extrication was impossible. (No "snatch and grab" here folks. ) I was wedged where they couldn't roll me over to slide a stretcher under without having my impalement hit the wall and I was paralyzed too. They were presented with a dilemma; after about 10 minutes of packing my wound and discussing how to get me out; they decided to use a partial backboard on me. (Their determination was "saving life over limb"; I would live but they had to move me risking more spinal damage.) It was a tough call on their part,folks. But, I got to see the reasoning and thought processes for making the decision and this was a really good education! Oh, the impalement got packed just like we CERT's do it.
They put the partial backboard on me (tight!!!!!! like a straight jacket) and pushed me forward and into a floor full of debris. They picked me up by my shoulders and feet; made me feel like a contorsionist getting out of the void space and got out to the main room. Here I was placed on yet another backboard and strapped down TIGHT!!!! . Then the fun part began............
The 911th rescue folks started by handing me down into the "tunnel" they made, head first. Two guys were stuffed in this first space; it may have been as big as a phone booth.These two guys grabbed me, they "fed" me into the hole and slid me onto the floor. Four MORE guys get into this telephone booth sized space and start to do a 6 man backboard carry. Talk about a wild ride folks. I was spun upside down, on my side, one rescuer tripped and fell on me, I was slid headfirst through small spots in the tunnel; at one point they had to negotiate a collapsed doorway with stairs leading upward. That space was barely big enough to get me through, so I was slid upwards, one guy jumped OVER me, got to my head and pulled me up by himself. The other guys got through the doorway (the rescuers looked like toothpaste squirting out of a tube, the opening was that tight!)and on my side, flipped me to one side and toted me up the staircase like I was a briefcase. (well, it was "another day at the office" for these guys).Finally we made it topside and all of the CERT's were there. Patty took a picture of all of us, with me still trussed to the stretcher. (Yeah, that's my feet in the picture :)
That was our part of the exercise; we were thanked again for coming by Lt. Branson AND the 911th engineer company commander! The company commander shook each of our hands; we were their only live victims and we gave them a touch of realism they otherwise would not have had. The commander gave me a 911th engineer company "challenge coin" for our efforts. For those who are army types; you know the prestige of being given one of these. For those that don't; challenge coins are given only to unit members; it's a gold plated "attaboy" on behalf of the unit and a HUGE honor. I accepted it on behalf of the Fairfax County CERT team; we're all CERT's and we;'re all honored by these folks. They honor us by asking us to come out, we are "citizen responders" and these guys wanted us to help them. We honor them by coming out and playing victim for them; by giving them an added touch of realism that they otherwise would not have.
For those who participated in the last 911th drill; Lt. Branson gave us some EXTREMELY nice certificates of appreciation; each one of us were also given a 911th engineer company patch as well. Very nice parting gifts, folks.
We left at this point; each of us dirty, a little more knowledgeable about the in's and out's of rescue, triage and extrication; and proud beyond belief. Things like this make our Fairfax County CERT program better; were you all aware that most CERT training around the country is a classroom only class, with an outside drill as a final exercise only? Think about our CERT classes; so how long did YOU actually stay in the classroom? (oh, one hour out of the 35 hours course, total.......) My point is; we are trained in the dirt,in the debris, in the burn building, in the multi purpose building etc... each time we come out for classes. Practice does make perfect; and Derek's "Less talk, more rock!" couldn't be more true. We've been trained at a level most CERT classes can only dream about. So yes; Fairfax County CERT is better. We're trained well enough to be able to be asked to come out and play with the "big boys", the real first responders.
Thanks to our instructors for making our training some of the best around; thanks to all of the volunteers who participated last night. I hope you all had as much fun as I did!

Your volunteer PIO


  1. I just found a story about this exercise on the Army's website. The article can be read at the link

    It doesn't look like we were the only role players partcipating in the exercise. It appears that many members of the service were "drafted" into being "victims" earlier in the exercise than when we partcipated.


  2. The marines were a bit slower getting it published in the Sentry


  3. I used to be in that Army unit and I was a instructor in the units training program. Trust me when i say that the 911th En Co. couldn't rescue a cat out of a tree.


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