Texas Task Force One (TX-TF1) was recently featured on the cover of FireRescue Magazine. An article titled “Disaster Masters” in the December 2002 issue describes in detail the full-scale Operational Readiness Exercise (ORE) that the Blue Team conducted last fall at Disaster City in College Station, Texas.
FireRescue Magazine has a circulation of 327,261 (including pass along readers). The magazine reports that it is the fastest growing magazine in the fire industry. The majority of the subscribers are training officers, instructors, fire chiefs, deputy chiefs, or fire commissioners.
It was the first training exercise involving the entire Blue Team, one of three search and rescue teams in TX-TF1.
“For the last two years, unlike the other Task Forces in the system, we have focused on position-specific training,” says TX-TF1 Leader Tim Gallagher in the article. “We wanted to make sure everyone knows his or her job. This year we’re gonna run it full scale—bring it all together.”
The article gives the history of TX-TF1, and mentions that the team has been mobilized several times, including to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and to New York City because of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Highlighting the Brayton Fire Training Field and Disaster City, the article states: “In addition to TX-TF1, TEEX also runs the massive, world-renowned 120-acre Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, where TX-TF1 trains regularly. Brayton serves as a top training ground for all aspects of emergency response. Within its expansive borders, students from all over the world can train in everything from freight train derailments to aircraft or watercraft fires and rescues.
Perhaps the most impressive area of the complex, however, is Disaster City—52 acres of realistic, collapsible city infrastructure simulation. The main city’ area features a pulverized building’ (a 10,000-square-foot rubble pile with a network of tunnels beneath it, allowing the placement of victims’ for rescue simulations); a partially collapsed single-family dwelling; an office complex; a strip mall; a theatre; and a multi-use building.”
Describing the setup of the exercise, the article notes that: “The Blue Team would face a formidable challenge: Multiple high-order explosive devices that would down several buildings in a downtown area. Overwhelmed first responders would activate the FEMA US&R system. All the Task Force would learn on arrival: they have a collapsed structure and must begin US&R operations as soon as possible.”
The rest of the article describes almost play-by-play how the team conducted the exercise. The team was paged-out, and the logistics staff prepared the team’s equipment for deployment. Upon arrival at the base of operations and unloading, a reconnaissance team with Weapons of Mass Destruction specialists was sent in and was greeted with a surprise explosion that sprayed an unknown substance everywhere. The team retracted, re-evaluated, and determined the substance was VX gas.
Then, the article continues: “The team broke out their A-level suits to begin decontamination (decon) with a new scene decontamination agent, EasyDecon, a foam developed by Sandia National Laboratories that ranked as one of the highlights of the drill for Gallagher.
“Nobody else has this. Nobody,” Gallagher says in the article. “This is so brand new we just bought it—it just came in a couple days ago. This is a decon foam system that I can make soupy, like dishwater, or I can make it like shaving cream. I’m gonna be able to spray you with all your clothes on and completely cover you with foam, and it will kill every chemical and biological agent known. Everything. Then I put you through the decon chamber, and it’s bio-degradable, so it can run into the ground.”
The contaminated area was thoroughly foamed and deemed safe before search and rescue operations began. The article then describes the next 13 hours during which three separate rescue operations were carried out, rescuing a total of 31 victims.
It was at this time that the team learned of a tropical storm system coming out of the Gulf of Mexico toward the Texas coast. Since many of the team’s members were from communities that could be affected by the storm, they were dismissed. Gallagher then called off further rescue operations and ordered demobilization with a final caution, “Be ready for another page-out. Only this time, it could be the real thing.”