March 12, 2009

Fort Pickett firefighters support Exercise Southbound Trooper

By Sgt. 1st Class Anne B. Burnley
Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — The Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center firefighters served as the six-member Crash Fire Rescue Team during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX conducted on both Fort Pickett and the Blackstone Army Air Field from Feb. 13-22, 2009.

Virginia Guard fire fighters

Firefighters Sgt. Albert Culanding and Sgt. Todd Pridgen are engulfed in smoke as they battle a blaze in a construction dumpster on Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 15, 2009. They serve with the Fort Pickett Fire Department and as National Guardsmen military firefighters. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tracy Hohmanl)

The scope of the VaARNG MTC firefighter training is vast and the responsibilities varied. “The desire to serve, the ability to perform and the courage to act is the Department of Defense, Fire Service Motto that we follow,” said Spc. Donald R. Blake, a medical technician with the team.

This was the first year that the MTC firefighters were asked to provide their expertise during Exercise Southbound Trooper.  The team, consisting of five emergency medical technicians basic and one EMT intermediate, provides year-round support for MTC, Joint Force Headquarters and the entire post. During EST IX, the MTC firefighters served as the Crash Fire Rescue Team for coalition forces training on post.

“Gary Watts proposed to us that we assume the Exercise Southbound Trooper IX Crash Fire Rescue mission,” said Sgt. Todd H. Pridgen, EMT Intermediate and rescue team section leader. “He needed crash fire rescue support and we got the green light from our chain of command. EST IX gave us a chance to hone our firefighting and emergency rescue skills together for a nine day stretch.”

Virginia Guard fire fighters

Virginia National Guard firefighters from Fort Pickett and medics from 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Brigade, perform a simulated aerial medical evacuation during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX at Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 16, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Teddy Wade)

EST IX also gave the MTC firefighters an opportunity to work in a combined services environment. Hoist rescue missions involved the firefighters coordinating missions with flight crews for both the United States Army Black Hawk and U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopters. Embedded Soldiers with the U.S. Army 55th Signal Company photographed and videotaped numerous missions. Airfield familiarization and maintaining contact with the Blackstone Army Air Field Tower were additional elements of the firefighters training.

“This was my first hoist operation and I learned a lot,” said Sgt. Albert A. Culanding, MTC Directorate of Public Works firefighter and EMT B.  “I didn’t know the Army or Navy side of hoist rescue. Now I know what to expect.”

Originally awarded the 51M firefighter occupational specialty at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, each Soldier in the MTC firefighter team now holds the 21M MOS. This change took place in 2004. The firefighters have been stationed on post since Fort Pickett became the ARNG Maneuver Training Center in 1997.

Virginia Guard fire fighters

Virginia Army National Gaurd Soldier Sgt. Albert Culanding from Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center suspends from a U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX at Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 18, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Richard Jones)

“We do standbys on both sides of the house, civilian and military,” said Pridgen. “This team is ready to provide fire protection, rescue, and life-saving support at a moment’s notice for missions ranging from Soldiers taking the Army Physical Fitness Test, to crash fire rescues on the Blackstone Army Air Field.”

Missions can also include manning the Fort Pickett Fire Station, assisting civilian firefighters, performing both light and heavy vehicle extractions, running and staffing ambulances, and providing advanced life support as needed.  The firefighters can also dispatch calls for the post 911 dispatcher or handle after-hours calls for the MTC Directorate of Public Works.

“When the power goes off, or a building has no heat, we can take the call,” Pridgen said. “If we can fix it, we do. If not, the team can put in the call for civilian support. Here on post, EST IX gave us a chance to combine our fire fighting and emergency rescue skills in a unique international mission.”

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