NEW YORK CITY —
Smoke ceaselessly poured into the theater at Times Square Church in New York City, while U.S. Army North Soldiers and New York City firefighters geared up in response to an incident involving a deadly chemical agent.
New York Police Department officers quickly blocked off West 51st Street and Broadway from auto and foot traffic, while Soldiers and firefighters hastily set up decontamination tents and readied breaching equipment, all while suiting up to safely enter the building and begin the search and rescue operation.
The training event was designed to resemble a real-world scenario any major city across the globe could face and was a part of the National Homeland Response Conference that took place in New York City July 9-12.
For the FDNY firefighters, this is an event they’re all familiar with. For the Soldiers, it gave them experience and exposure to the kind of chaos big-city first responders handle on a daily basis.
“We need to provide soldiers exposure to these types of training as much as possible,” said Phillipe Kebreau, Echo Division Chief of Training and Readiness, Civil Support Training Activity, U.S. Army North. “What we’re trying to do is involve the Soldiers, so they can get that exposure and build a level of confidence with local first responders. They’re here to reinforce the local response formation.”
The city provides a training environment that a military installation would not be able to replicate with traffic and population, making the venue and opportunity important.
“In the midst of the mass confusion that goes on in cities, just like the firefighters deal with every day, the Soldiers get to train to now,” Kebreau said. “It’s hard to capture that in a Fort Hood or Fort Polk environment.”
“This is invaluable training for us,” said Sgt. Jason Benjamin, a safety officer and fire fighter with the 468th Engineer Detachment Fire Fighting Headquarters Company out of Massachusetts. “For us, one, we get firsthand experience from people who do this on a regular basis. It gives us an idea to adjust what we’ve learned to work with local first responders.”
“You learn there’s a lot of free thinking and problem solving that goes into response,” Benjamin said.
The Times Square event did not just benefit the Army.
“What we take away from this is knowing the many resources at our disposal,” said Chief Tim Rice, New York City Fire Department Hazardous Materials Battalion Chief and Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch Director. “We just never really knew how to get them, what they could do for us, what they couldn’t do for us, and what capabilities could be brought to the table,” “Through this training we have a greater understanding of what resources we have, not just at the Department of Defense’s disposal, but at our disposal.”
Overall, the training event incorporated medical, hazardous materials and firefighting training.
“Everything I learn here I reuse in some fashion as a power electric employee. From tying knots to applying lessons learned here to our processes back home, it’s useful,” Benjamin said. “With a little creativity, you can definitely use everything we learn here and apply it to managing teams.”
From the soldier and firefighter level there’s been tremendous growth and learning on both sides of the fence, Rice said.
“It’s a two-way street. When it comes to the HAZMAT and CBRN mission there’s a lot of give-and-take on both sides,” Rice said. “DOD has access to equipment and resources that we’d normally not have access to, and in exchange for that we have some very talented technical specialists that have devoted their entire careers to this work and they’re able to give something back to DOD.”