Columbus Fire Department Trains for Tornado Disaster

Firefighters Participate in Tornado Alley Training at Muscatatuck

Over the past week, 11 Columbus firefighters participated in the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s 2012 emergency response training, Tornado Alley, at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Jennings County.   This is the first time Columbus firefighters have ever been able to participate in a training exercise simulating a real-live tornado.

Although Columbus is not in one of the Indiana Homeland Security Districts scheduled for the disaster training last week, Mayor Kristen Brown made a special request to Indiana Homeland Security to allow Columbus firefighters to be included in the exercise.

“Our firefighters had not previously trained for disasters like tornadoes or floods, but disaster training and preparedness is a top priority of ours -- immediately.”  We need our firefighters trained and well-prepared to deal with a tornado disaster.  The need couldn’t be more apparent given our community’s high risk for tornadoes and particularly in light of the devastation I personally witnessed in Clark County in March” said Mayor Brown. “The timing is also critical.  We are in the middle of the tornado season.” 

The training was set up for Indiana Homeland Security Districts 4, 5 and 6 and included fire fighters, emergency medical services and local and state law enforcement officers.  Members of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package from the 81st Troop Command, Indiana National Guard also participated.

Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC) played the part of a city hit by an EF-5 tornado for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s 2012 emergency response exercise. MUTC took on the look and feel of a tornado disaster area. Fire and effects were in place and old clothes donated were strewn across the campus, while mannequins stuck in overturned vehicles and collapsed structures waited to be rescued.    

The disaster scenarios were set up so officers learned what resources they have available, how to get those resources to the scene and how to utilize them safely.  The training exercises serve to teach them how to be a task- oriented section of a large scale operation and also teaches them the limits of what their crew can accomplish, preventing injury and exhaustion.

When Columbus firefighter crews arrived at MUTC they were inundated with the sights and sounds of a city in distress with victims on rooftops, smoke and fire, and impassable roads. There was no time to stop and take it all in as the responders were immediately thrown into an intense situation. 

The Columbus firefighters participated in four different mock scenarios – a trailer fire with a heart attack victim; an auto accident involving a van, bus and 17 victims; a refinery fire with a hazardous materials release resulting in injuries and a fatality, and a parking garage collapse with victims.

Newly appointed Columbus Fire Chief Thacker, who is currently transitioning from White River Township to Columbus, served as the section chief of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 5 Incident Management Team in the exercises.  He played a key leadership role as the Incident Commander on the scene during the structural collapse exercises, and an emergency medical services leader in the fire exercises.

Deputy Fire Chief of Operations, David Dwyer, led the Columbus firefighters who participated in the training. “This was an outstanding opportunity for our firefighters.  For the first time, we got boots on the ground experience at the nation’s premier urban training ground.  The live simulations at Muskatatuck are as real as it gets and provided an invaluable experience which benefits our community greatly.”

Other Columbus firefighters participating in the training included Dan Acree, Dan Bates, Kevin Bozell, Matthew Dwyer, Andrew Jordan, Andy Lay, Carl Moss, Matt Noblitt and Ron Sexton.

Columbus Fire Department will have another opportunity to participate in training at Muscatatuck next fall, and it is a high priority for both Mayor Brown and Chief Thacker to get more Columbus firefighters trained.

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