Michigan CST practices breathing control using SCBAs
By Master Sgt. David Eichaker
/ Published June 26, 2020
AUGUSTA, Mich.—Michigan’s Civil Support Team (CST) is unique in many ways and has to be ready for a variety of situations that could include weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Because of this, CST members would be required to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and understanding their capabilities is beneficial to the success of missions.
“The purpose is to have the team members go through a non-physical but demanding activity while trying to conserve oxygen for the purpose of extending their air supply,” said Army Capt. Mathew Guerin, deputy commander, 51st Civil Support Team (CST) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Michigan Army National Guard. “When we go into a hazmat or WMD environment we need to make every second count while we’re down range so really this helps them practice breathing techniques to slow down their breathing so that they can extend the time down range and get that stuff done if they need to be getting done down there.”
The self-contained breathing apparatus (SBCA), similar to what fire fighters wear is provided for each team member to protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear high-yield explosives. An average tank when filled contains between 4200 – 4500 pounds per square inch of air.
“An average time for these air tanks is about an hour,” said Guerin. “Time depends the physical condition and size of the team member as the larger the body mass, the more oxygen is needed to fuel the muscles.”
This exercise was not for distance but to gauge length of time that is needed to bring the oxygen level to zero while exerting energy.
“They're going until their bottle runs out so they will be gauging her own distance,” said Guerin. “Some people were trying different techniques such as walking slow and trying to conserve every second of air with relaxed breaths while other people are trying to go as fast as they can while still maintaining breath control.”
Doing this particular exercise is two-fold and helps meet National Guard Bureau (NGB) and OSHA requirements.
“Doing this is good on two different levels because it helps prepare for Level A Olympics and also lets us know who uses the most oxygen and at what time,” said Guerin. “This information helps us plan and pair up team members along with who is going to be on an entry team.”
“If we know that somebody finishes their air supply at 40 minutes and another finishes in 80 minutes, we’re not going to pair those two up because they would have to turn back in 40 minutes when the first Soldier or Airman runs out of air,” he said.
Others agree the importance information and how it can lead to mission failure or success.
“Getting the matrix from this can tell us a lot because sometimes our people have to respond to an incident that is half a mile away,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Brad MacDonald, medical noncommissioned officer, 51st CST WMD, Michigan Air National Guard. “Knowing how much air they're going to burn walking to a scene and knowing how much to expect coming back helps us out tremendously.”
“These tanks only have so long in them so if we can keep our people fit to the point where they can make a tank last an hour then all of our guys are better off for it,” he said.
The second part of this exercise focuses on standards as directed by the NGB and OSHA.
“This is a prelude to Level A Olympics that we do which is it both an NGB and OSHA requirement,” said Guerin. “We conduct hazmat technician refresher training every year so to fulfill the requirements, we typically have a week of classroom training followed by a capstone event, which is a mock Level A Olympics involving more strenuous activities.”
“That can include a dummy drag, a water barrel roll, and numerous other events where we use analytics to pair people in teams,” he said.
These tasks are done is full gear doesn’t mean the fun has been taken out of it.
“We make it fun by making it a competition but in reality it's to make sure that everybody is proficient down range,” said Guerin. “Even though someone could be a commander, a physician assistant, or the nuclear medical science officer, everybody has to be prepared to go down range.”
This CST is 1 of the 57 WDM-CSTs in the National Guard that are located in every state, U.S. Territory, and Washington, D.C. Their primary responsibility is to identify hazardous chemical agents and substances, assess current and projected consequences, advise on response measures and assist with requests for additional support. Even though the teams are on standby 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, doesn’t mean CST members don’t find this rewarding.
“I joined the CST about 2 years ago after 17 years at Selfridge Air National Guard Base and it's probably one of the most amazing jobs that I've ever had in the military,” said MacDonald.
“We are actually doing our mission in day in and day out and I absolutely love working for the CST,” he said.