by U.S. Army Sgt. Zoe Morris
West Virginia National Guard
August 21, 2018
Soldiers from the West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) and the West Virginia Swift Water Rescue Team (WVSWRT) attained the necessary training and certification to identify as a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Type 1 swift water/flood search and rescue team within the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the comprehensive, national approach to disaster response.
During June 2018, on the Cheat River in Preston County, West Virginia, three members of the WVSWRT and 18 from the WVARNG Company C, 2nd Battalion, 104th General Support Aviation Battalion trained on Helicopter Underwater Egress Trainer (HUET) and a Helicopter Search and Rescue Course that encompassed helicopter hoist, tracking victims down river with a helicopter and deploying a rescuer from the helicopter. The team included pilots, crew chiefs and rescue swimmers.
In addition to the training on the Cheat River, three WVSRT Soldiers assisted Spec Rescue, a national search and rescue training organization, train FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams from around the country on the New River outside of Fayetteville, West Virginia, June 20 and 21. The training consisted of a boat operations specialist course which taught students how to navigate a boat flip, how to conduct rescues from a boat and how to tether rescue swimmers from a boat.
“This [training] is important to the West Virginia Swift Water Rescue Team as it shows our certification to operate in these flood disaster environments anywhere within the United States,” said Sgt. First Class Mark A. Shrewsbury, Joint Interagency Training and Education Center (JITEC) WVSWRT noncommissioned officer in charge. “Being recognized as a FEMA Type 1 Swift Water Rescue team gives us the ability to deploy and be recognized at a national level as capable of performing many technical rescue disciplines that could occur in a flood situation such as, helicopter search and rescue, large animal rescue, technical rope rescue, flat water and swift water rescue, to name a few.”
According to Jimmy Gianato, director of West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (WVDHSEM), tying aviation rescue to swift water rescue allows this team to operate in a totally different environment and capacity than this state has had before.
“Our hope is that we can put teams like this all over the state, so that when something happens we’ve got the capabilities and the response time is diminished,” Gianato said. ”It’s tremendous training, and we’ve got some outstanding swift water rescue teams in the state. By taking the National Guard capabilities and adding that with those teams, like we’ve done here, I think it will give us the capability that many other states won’t have.”
In the wake of a very active 2017 hurricane season, JITEC commander Lt. Col. Walter Hatfield said there was frustration in not being able to deploy to Texas and Florida, due the few lingering certifications needed. Heading into this hurricane and storm season, however, he is confident that this team is ready to deploy anywhere in the United States and territories to come to the aid of people in need.