FALL RIVER, Mass. - A specialized team of National Guardsmen swept a former Soviet naval ship for hazardous material during a training exercise, March 4, 2009, at the Battle Ship Cove naval ship display in Fall River, Mass.
The 1st Civil Support Team of the Massachusetts National Guard used the ship to conduct a radioactive material training exercise.
Prior to the exercise the CST conducted a two-day course about rapid radiological assessments. The purpose of the exercise was to train the team through all stages of an alert with an emphasis on dealing with a radiation hazard and to build upon their previous maritime operations training.
The training mission covered tasks such as establishing a base of operations, maintaining an operations center, installing communications and conducting a hazardous material survey with a focus on radiological material.
"The team is using detection equipment that will be carried and employed on the ship," said Maj. Jason M. Squitier, science officer, 1st Civil Support Team, Massachusetts National Guard.
"Additional stationary force protection equipment may be utilized, depending upon how the team reacts to the training scenario," said Squitier.
The premise of the training scenario was that Battleship Cove had received a vessel donated from the Russian navy and the local fire department performed a sweep of the ship's decks for any chemical and radiological hazards that may have been present from past operations. During the sweep, no chemical hazards were discovered but one of the firefighter’s radiation pagers alarmed. The firefighters then disembarked the ship and requested the assistance of the 1st CST to further characterize and identify the hazard.
"In a situation like this we would go to the site and survey the area to determine where and what the hazard might be and bring it to the lab," said Sgt. Robyn M. Corbin, nuclear, biological and chemical team member, 1st Civil Support Team, Massachusetts National Guard.
"Once the survey phase of the operation begins we are timed and we need to get to the area and begin radiation testing. All of our equipment is loaded on the trucks and the batteries that we need get recharged while we are moving to the scene," said Corbin.
Capt. Anthony G. Circosta, survey team leader, 1st Civil Support Team, Massachusetts National Guard, briefed the team on what to do if they found anyone in need of medical assistance.
"The local fire department went aboard the ship and one of their radiation detectors went off, so they left. Since then, the ships generator mechanic has not been unaccounted for. If the survey team finds him or anyone else call the decontamination team to remove him and keep surveying the area," said Circosta.
Lt. Col. Margaret White, commander, 1st Civil Support Team, said, "the mechanic was represented by a 185-pound mannequin that the decontamination team is going to have to remove from the ship. It’s a difficult thing to do while wearing a chemical protective suit and breathing through a gas mask. Maintaining physical fitness enables Soldiers to perform this kind of challenging mission."
To prevent injuries, the team’s physician assistant monitors team members' blood pressure, temperature, pulse and heart rate regularly.
"It gives us an idea what their normal ranges are so that if they have an abnormal reading during a mission we can substitute them with another team member," said White.
The chemical protective equipment the team wears provides an appropriate level of protection for a radiological mission but allows them to be able to move in the confined space onboard a ship. The team works in small groups with the U.S. Coast Guard and has increased their maritime operations over the last year.
"It’s a difficult environment to work in so to get a feel for it the team is going to sleep on board the ship tonight. Individual participation strengthens the unit’s radiation response skills and refines our maritime operations activities," said White.
The ship that the team trained and slept on is named the Hiddensee. The Hiddensee was originally commissioned by the East German People's navy as the Rudolf Eglehofer in 1985. The Hiddensee is a Tarantul I class corvette built at the Petrovsky Shipyard located near the Soviet city of St. Petersburg. The Hiddensee was designed to oppose any naval threat to the East German coast, and to fulfill that mission it carried long-range anti-ship missiles and an array of defensive weapons designed to ensure its own survivability.
Following the reunification of Germany, the Hiddensee served with the Federal German navy until her decommissioning in April 1991.
The Hiddensee joined the Battleship Cove fleet on June 14, 1997.
(Information from the Battle Ship Cove Naval Ship Display Web site was used in this story.)