123rd's Fatality Search and Recovery Team delivers expertise at Patriot 12
By Master Sgt. Philip Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 02, 2012
VOLK FIELD, Wis. -- Members of the Kentucky Air Guard's Fatality Search and Recovery Team brought their expertise to Volk Field, Wis., this summer to train other disaster-response officials during a key national exercise.
More than 1,100 military and civilian emergency responders participated in the event, known as Patriot 12, a National Guard scenario held July 13-20 to simulate the damage caused by a major earthquake.
The primary mission of Kentucky's FSRT was to train a Fatality Search and Recovery Team from the Indiana National Guard, according to 2nd Lt. Jonathan Fairbanks, the officer in charge of the Kentucky unit. The Indiana team, which has just been stood up, had never fielded its equipment before.
"We showed them everything, from the initial setup and the initial brief from the on-site commander, all the way through the end of the exercise and cleaning everything up afterwards," Fairbanks said.
The Kentucky team was hand-selected for the task by Brad Whitlinger, lead exercise planner for the National Guard Bureau, because he knew the unit was experienced, fully capable and could integrate well with other teams, Fairbanks said. FSRT teams from Arizona and Minnesota also provided training to the Indiana group.
Fatality Search and Recovery Teams are charged with locating and recovering the remains of victims killed in hostile action or natural disasters. Team members have special training and equipment that allow them to operate in a broad spectrum of dangerous environments, including those contaminated by nuclear, biological or chemical agents.
During Patriot 12, all four FSRTs conducted training on the proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment and the use of gear like litters and tents. They also trained on proper procedures for handling remains in contaminated and uncontaminated areas.
Actors added a dose of reality to the rubble-strewn environment, requiring FSRT members to interact with simulated victims, injured survivors and distraught family members who were frantically searching for loved ones.
Fairbanks said he was extremely pleased with the performance of his members, who had to balance the challenges of responding to exercise inputs in a dynamic environment with the need to train the Indiana unit while integrating with FSRTs from two other states.
"What I thought was going to be our biggest challenge -- integrating with the other teams -- actually was our biggest strength," he said. "When you bring in four teams with four different ways of doing things, sometimes you run into issues. But we didn't really have that."
Master Sgt. Krista Lindsey, non-commissioned officer in charge of Kentucky's FSRT, said the exercise helped prepare the team for real-world deployments in which members will be required to work with a broad range of disaster-response officials.
"This was a great training experience since it is very likely we'll be working with other units and augmentees in a mass-casualty environment," Lindsey said.
Lindsey and Fairbanks both noted the crucial nature of the FSRT mission, which ensures that the remains of deceased citizens are recovered with dignity.
"I tell my team there aren't very many jobs more important than ours," Fairbanks said. "We ensure they get to bring their loved ones home, to get a proper resting place."
"Our job as the Fatality Search and Recovery Team is essential because we are there to maintain the dignity of the family's loved one with respect at the scene of a mass casualty, in both a chemical and non-chemical environment," she said. "Our team is prepared to operate knowing that we support the local authorities and we can bring our capabilities, processes, procedures and lessons learned from our training to effectively support each mission."