Between Jan. 15-18, 13 Airmen total were trained by instructors from the National Guard Bureau at the 162nd Fighter Wing on the city’s newest asset – an in-place patient decontamination shelter for the effective decontamination of both ambulatory and non-ambulatory patients and casualties affected by chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) contamination.
Medical Counter (MC)-CBRN equipment packages such as this are being positioned at Air National Guard installations throughout the United States to support domestic operations involving the accidental or intentional terrorist use of CBRN materials. “They are intended to fulfill the 0-6 hour emergency response window that exists prior to the arrival and employment of more robust local, state, federal or Department of Defense CBRN assets, said Master Sgt. Cally Handa from the 162nd Bioenvironmental Engineering office.
“This is a great capability and a valuable tool that is available to our unit or that can be deployed to support other operations within the Tucson area,” said 1st Lt. Jason Gutierrez, 162nd Fighter Wing executive officer.
The MC-CBRN package received by the 162nd Fighter Wing includes a patient decontamination (PD) system, bioenvironmental engineering CBRN response equipment, triage assembly and medical supplies. The PD system is manned by 12 full-time base employees (one medical program manager and 11 non-medical full-time employees) from the wing.
Some contaminants (i.e., nerve, blood or mustard agents) do most of their damage within the first few minutes of exposure, so time is of the essence. For that reason, drill status Guardsmen are not selected for the PD teams, and additional personnel are trained as back-up.
“In the event of a CBRNE incident, the PD package will allow us to sanitize up to 100 individuals from any suspected/confirmed substance in a six hour time-line,” said Public Health NCOIC here, Master Sgt. Tracey Jorgensen. “Having this team of trained volunteers is really appreciated since it gives us the capability to support our base populace and the local community in the event of a CBRNE event,” she said.
The PD team trained on their operational functions of the PD, and they practiced donning their personal protective equipment (PPE) and having the shelter erected and operational within 20 minutes. The PD operates at the Medical Group or another pre-designated site.
Site selection takes into account the need for a water heater to be set up within 100 feet of a fire hydrant. The PD team was trained on the procedure for hooking up and disconnecting from the hydrant as well as how to flush the hydrant. The water heater can operate on electricity or diesel fuel. The diesel fuel must be on-hand at all times.
Patient flow through the decontamination process begins with triage at the “dirty or warm” end of the shelter. Triage is designed to provide a quick evaluation of the patient’s condition and thus establish their priority for decontamination. Following triage, patients remove clothing and valuables and begin processing from one end of the shelter through to the other. PD personnel accomplish self-decontamination before removing their own PPE.
Contaminated run-off from the operation is pumped into a bladder and contained until the level of contamination is determined. The water is disposed of in accordance with local and federal regulations based on the level of contamination.
The PD, in essence, is the “gatekeeper” during a CBRN incident, protecting the mission, the installation and personnel from contamination.