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Training for the Worst

– A New York City firefighter
races to help victims during a simulated
bus bombing, at the FDNY Fire Academy
on Randall’s Island, N.Y.

NEW YORK — The New York City Fire Department and the Marines’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force responded to a simulated exploded bus, a subway chemical attack, a building collapse and two improvised explosive device attacks April 22.

The all-day exercise was the culmination of a weeklong training evolution at FDNY Fire Academy on Randall’s Island, N.Y., pairing Marines and firefighters. The Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), based in Indian Head, Md., has a history with the FDNY going back to the unit’s founding in 1996.  Deputy Chief and Marine veteran Raymond Downey helped develop the original training for the unit. After he died in the World Trade Center rescue effort, their training facility was named after Downey.

CBIRF is never in command of an incident, instead they respond and augment at the request of local, state or federal agencies, said Col. John Pollock, CBIRF commanding officer. The Marines go to large-scale events, such as presidential visits and sporting events, so they can respond quickly in case of emergency.

The Marines can assist local emergency services when they may get overwhelmed in a large-scale disaster.

“These guys are cut from the same cloth that we are. We are both men and women of action,” said Maj. Michael S. Johnson, CBIRF operations officer.
As soon as firefighters cleared away victims from a bus bombing, another set of victims came coughing and choking looking for help. The firefighters called up the Marines and sent them into the smoke filled, mock subway tunnel.

Sgt. Cody McGrew, CBIRF reconnaissance team leader, was one of the first Marines into the subway.

“All we knew was there was a subway attack,” said the Muscatine, Iowa, native.

They rushed into the subway covered in protective suits with handfuls of detection equipment searching for the type of chemical used in the attack.
Staff Sgt. Kelly Vansickle, rescue team member, was sweat-soaked by the time he stepped out of his chemical protective suit at the end of the exercise. He had spent the afternoon carrying and dragging people on special sleds out of the subway chemical attack simulation.

Rescue team members train for these mass casualty events, preparing for possibly 100 or more injured, he said. He can only carry one at a time, and with the clock ticking on survivability, he has to quickly triage and move the right people.

“When you call the Marines, they’re going to get the job done,” said Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano standing in front of the Marines scrubbing and spraying victims as they came out of the smoky subway, and then passing them to fire department medical personnel.

“This is a true joint operation and the picture of interoperability,” said Cassano. “The city fire department is better trained to respond after today.”

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