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Medical Airmen train for toxic agents with Homeland Security

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer
  • 182nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Sarin is a chemical weapon so anonymous that you may not realize you have been exposed until the symptoms show. The weapon has no color, taste or smell, and symptoms can set in anywhere from seconds to hours, depending on how it is delivered. A low dose can cause flu-like symptoms, while a larger exposure could bring convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure leading to death.

It is the most volatile of all the nerve agents, and six Peoria Airmen just stood in the same room with it.

The health service personnel with the 182nd Medical Group recently finished toxic chemical agent training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, as part of their duties with the Illinois Air National Guard.

There they practiced responding to natural disasters and terrorist acts involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents.

Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Sisson, Master Sgt. Tim Swearingen and Staff Sgt. Staci Hovey went through an incident command program, while Tech Sgt. Elizabeth Collins, Senior Airman Corey Norman and Airman 1st Class Travis Miller attended classes on emergency medical operations.

The Airmen are part of the 182nd Airlift Wing's CERFP unit, a team of Illinois National Guard Airmen and soldiers that locate and rescue victims in contaminated locations.

An entire day of training put the Airmen in a room with live toxins including the nerve agents VX and sarin, and the biological agents anthrax and ricin - the same poison famously used in AMC's "Breaking Bad."

"I was initially somewhat nervous about entering the live agent chamber," said Hovey, "but within a few hours of the course, it became overwhelmingly apparent that the instructors were incredibly well-educated and practiced individuals, so I gradually became more and more excited for the experience."

The courses were of mix of classroom teaching with tabletop exercises and hands-on practice using detection gear and several types of personal protection equipment.

"During this exercise we had to triage, move and decontaminate patients, followed by detection of radiological debris from a dirty bomb," said Swearingen.

The training helped the responders gain skills and confidence in effectively responding to local incidents and events involving weapons of mass destruction.

"The incident command course allows us to see what all happens before we would be called upon," said Swearingen. "Interaction with civilian agencies and knowing what they need allows us to adjust our response. We have to be easily integrated into the civilian incident command system and talk the same language."

"Every aspect of the training was beneficial in at least one way," Hovey said. "It was very organized and each instructor's method of delivery was incredibly advantageous."

The CDP campus is the only federally chartered weapons of mass destruction training facility in the nation. It provides advanced instruction at no cost to state, local and tribal agencies in order to increase the abilities of emergency responders.

(Information was used from the Center for Domestic Preparedness and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)