BY DIRK A. CHRISTIAN
Several members of the Kansas Army National Guard (KSARNG) were assisting local civilian agencies in the Vitina region municipality in the Serbian province of Kosovo during its recent 12-month peacekeeping deployment. Captain Jason Hudson and I, both officers in the KSARNG and assigned to the First Battalion, 635th Armor (Task Force Tornado) for the Kosovo Force (KFOR) Rotation 6B from February 2005 to January 2006, trained, equipped, and established the first municipal technical rescue team in Kosovo history.
Early in the deployment, the battalion staff suggested that we use civilian expertise within the task force to assist and further the capabilities of municipal organizations throughout the Vitina municipality. Mobilized Army National Guard (ANG) soldiers have specialized civilian skills that are not as common among regular U.S. Army soldiers. We have firefighters, police officers, carpenters, pipefitters, and so forth; our soldiers can pass on their knowledge to the local population while they are deployed in Kosovo. The task force commander allowed this as long as it did not affect mission readiness or the conduct of peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions. Task Force Tornado was already working with the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a civil assistance and civil engineering organization, teaching and coaching members in civil assistance, first-aid, land navigation, and so forth. During an administrative training management seminar, KPC members asked for more advanced training in rescue techniques involving ropes. The task force commander, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Raney, asked me to put together some specialized training for the KPC and local civil agencies. Once the word spread that experienced KFOR soldiers would start training more with the KPC, the fire chief in Vitina asked me to train with his agency also.
LOCAL NEEDS ASSESSMENT
During KFOR 6B, I served as the task force operations officer, based out of Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, responsible for the training and operations of the task force and for the safe and secure environment in and around the Vitina municipality. I also work for the KSARNG fulltime as an operations and training officer and have been a firefighter and rescue specialist for more 16 years. Captain Jason Hudson, my plans officer in Kosovo, works full time as a firefighter and rope rescue specialist with the Manhattan (KS) Fire Department. We conducted a feasibility study and determined the type of technical training that was needed to build a rescue team in the municipality. We studied the region’s topography, surveyed industrial sites for hazards, and assessed the demographics. We also visited with local government officials, the chief of the Vitina Fire Brigade, and the director of civil protection and emergency management for the Vitina municipality regarding accident and incident trends. Some of the other initial training that we conducted with the KPC focused on risk assessment/management, field training exercises, training safety and employment of a safety officer, and use of the unified command system (a combination of incident command and management systems).
All of the training was voluntary, was taught in English and translated on the spot into Albanian and Serbo-Croatian by my interpreter, and was conducted under the auspices of United Nations Resolution 1244 and the Kosovo Military Technical Agreement. Our initial recommendations included training two separate but interoperable rescue teams. We trained one team from Detachment 363 of the KPC in Vitina and one team consisting of members of the Vitina Fire Brigade and Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management in Vitina. All of the students were paid professionals but had had little specialized training in rescue operations up to that point.
I reviewed training videos with the fire brigade to establish its proficiency level and witnessed a few of its fire training sessions. I also helped to teach risk management and a few other classes for the KPC prior to training them in rope rescue operations.
Captain Hudson and I decided that teaching rope rescue to both agencies was within our capabilities. We conducted a risk analysis and mitigated the risks through the military composite risk management process. Our next big hurdle was to obtain equipment to conduct the training. The only rope rescue equipment in the camp belonged to the Camp Bondsteel Fire Department and was not available for training. I contacted my wife back home in Topeka, and she mailed me all of my personal rescue equipment over the next few weeks. I purchased additional carabiners at the Post Exchange store at Camp Bondsteel. I used 120-foot Army climbing ropes, simple hard hats, and leather gloves received through the military supply system temporarily. We could not obtain static kernmantle ropes, so we trained with military laid climbing ropes and adjusted our rigging to ensure that all live loads were always belayed. This reinforced safety practices in all rigging operations we taught. I personally purchased additional equipment online and had it sent to me at Camp Bondsteel; including bidding for equipment on eBay. Our equipment cache was not optimal, but we had enough equipment on hand to safely teach our classes.
In April and May 2005, Captain Hudson and I developed a 40-hour instruction program, “Introduction to Technical Rope Rescue,” a compilation of multiple rope rescue instruction programs in which I had participated over the course of my career. The program consisted of five separate modules, built into a PowerPoint® presentation, and had all of the slides translated from English into Albanian and Serbo-Croatian. This facilitated our practical training and provided the students with translated handouts.
The first module was a classroom session in which we taught equipment identification, use, care, and maintenance, as well as knot tying. The second module focused on establishing anchors, practical knot tying, and rappelling. In the third module, we taught low-angle rescue operations, including slope evacuations, lowering operations with descenders, simple mechanical advantage rigging, and patient packaging in a rescue litter. We borrowed an extra litter from our combat medics every day to accomplish this training. During our fourth module, we taught high-angle raising and lowering operations; we put it all together into practical exercise scenarios in the fifth and final module of training. We taught one module each week over a five-week period. Each class of 28 students had two instructors and two interpreters.
In April 2005, the director of civil protection asked me to assist him with a mock disaster drill for the municipality. We established an earthquake scenario and held several exercise coordination meetings before the mock drill took place on April 28. During the one-day exercise, the municipality experienced a mock 7.0 earthquake and responded to the incident. The downtown business district of Vitina was littered with concrete rubble and simulated mass casualties. Captain Hudson and I assisted in a victim evacuation rope rescue exercise in which the KPC rescue team from Detachment 363 rigged and lowered two “injured” victims from a three-story KEK building in the middle of the downtown square. More than 400 local civilians witnessed this event, which validated the training we were conducting with the local response agencies. This was the first mock disaster drill conducted in Kosovo, and it was a huge success.
In October, we taught the second rope rescue training course to 15 students from the fire brigade and civil protection department. We used almost the same program of instruction but went a little more in depth on scenarios. In the final scenario, we rappelled from the top floor of a six-story grain mill and conducted victim pick-offs (photo 1). We also trained and evaluated their rescue teams on a scenario in which they had to access a victim on top of a five-story grain bin, package him, rig him for lowering, and safely lower the victim to the ground. In photo 2, I acted as the victim; this was my way of showing the team that I trusted them and the training skills in which they were now competent.
We spent several days working closely with the teams to write and translate standard operating guidelines (SOGs) for the new Vitina Municipal Technical Rescue Team, based on SOGs from departments and agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom. I provided each of the teams with a binder of the SOGs and all of the translated slides and materials used in the initial training. This provided the teams with references for sustaining training in the future.
As I was conducting training in Kosovo, I simultaneously launched a campaign in the United States to obtain rescue equipment donations from vendors and others. I contacted my friends at Dive Rescue International, Inc; they assisted in getting the word regarding my project to vendors at the 2005 Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. I initiated a letter-writing campaign and e-mailed more than 30 equipment vendors explaining our project in Kosovo and requesting equipment. We received a few confirmations for donations early and then did not receive any more donations until I resumed making requests in the fall.
By September 2005, we were competing for donations with Hurricane Katrina relief. By the end of November, we had received more than $10,000 in equipment donations from CMC Rescue, Inc.; ASR, Inc.; PMI, Inc.; Sierra Factoring, LLC; RescueDirect/Starved Rock Outfitters; Dive Rescue Intl. Inc; TEC Rescue of Kansas; and several private individuals from around the United States. All of the equipment was received by mail at Camp Bondsteel and inventoried. On December 9, 2005, with Adjutant General of Kansas, Major General Tod Bunting and Task Force Tornado Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Raney on hand for the ceremony, we donated the new rescue equipment to Detachment 363 of the KPC and to the Vitina Fire Brigade. I continued to work with both agencies and the rescue team until my tour of duty ended in Kosovo in January 2006. Then I returned to Kansas.
I now work full time with the Kansas Army National Guard at a new job in Topeka and with the Mission Township Fire Department as the team leader of its new technical rescue team. I remain in email contact with my successor at Camp Bondsteel (a major from the Texas Army National Guard) and with the Vitina Fire Brigade and the civil protection director to ensure that they are maintaining their skills and equipment.
I received news that the Vitina Fire Brigade used its rescue team, its rescue training, and its new equipment to save the lives of several victims of a car crash into a deep mountain ravine.
DIRK A. CHRISTIAN is a major and the assistant state training officer with the Kansas Army National Guard in Topeka. He is a firefighter/EMT and the rescue team leader with the Mission Township Fire Department in Topeka and has more than 16 years of experience.