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Breaking Labs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shane Hughes
  • 180FW Public Affairs
TOLEDO, Ohio - Traffic outside an abandoned 1920s era school in downtown Toledo slowed to a crawl as drivers and passengers stared out their windows at men and women dressed in fluorescent orange hazardous material suits processing through decontamination tents. Inside the school, similarly dressed men and women searched for labs used to create weapons of mass destruction.

The activity in and around the school was part of a week-long training exercise designed to enhance coordination and interoperability between civilian and military emergency response teams. The joint training exercise included the Toledo Fire Department, the Ohio National Guard's 52nd Civil Support Team and the Michigan National Guard's 51st CST. Personnel from the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, alongside the 110th Attack Wing and 127th Wing, both from the Michigan Air National Guard, augmented the teams.

"It's vital we identify risks and help support civilian authorities by identifying hazardous materials and enable them to address those hazards," said Maj. Kelly Black, deputy commander of the 51st CST.

Lt. Col. Andrew Kuhns, commander of the 51st CST, said the training exercise began March 7 when the CST received a call for support from the Toledo Fire Department after locating a simulated suspicious lab in an abandoned building near the school. The 51st CST coordinated with the TFD deputy fire chief to set up a Mobile Emergency Operations Command Center, a central location where the participating agencies can coordinate emergency response efforts.

Once the MEOCC was up and running, and communication lines were established, the team began searching the building. While conducting the search, they received another call about a possible lab inside the abandoned school. The discovery of a second lab required additional teams to be brought in for support.

Kuhns said a typical response will only include one CST at a time, but this training was designed to simulate a long-term scenario, requiring the transfer of operations to other teams, which in this case was the 52nd CST.

Master Sgt. Kristy Copic, installation emergency manager with the 180FW CES, was one of the Airmen who integrated with the CSTs to search the dark hallways and empty classrooms for suspected explosives labs.

"It's been a great experience," Copic said. "We use a lot of the same equipment and have the same skillsets, but this is their everyday job and they have a lot of experience we can learn from. It's been great to see how we can augment one another and work together as a team."

"This gives us the opportunity to train with other agencies and hone our skills," said Lt. Col. John Cupp, commander of the 180FW Civil Engineering Squadron. "We usually don't get these opportunities too often."

Kuhns said joint training between civil authorities and military personnel creates a unified command structure and helps both groups better protect the public by enhancing communication and cooperation during disasters and emergency situations.

"You never know when an incident is going to strike," said Maj. Jeremy Ferguson, operations officer with the 180FW CES. "Whether it's on our base, at the airport or right out in Monclova Township, it's important for us to have this training beforehand to ensure we're responding to every incident to the best of our ability."