Story and photo by Capt. Rick Breitenfeldt, Maryland National Guard
BALTIMORE – Hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June 1, but the Maryland National Guard and the Baltimore County Fire Department aren’t waiting until then to get acquainted.
|Spc. Bob Walker (left) and Sgt. George C. Payer from the Maryland Guard’s 1st Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment (Security & Support) in Edgewood, Md., lift a Baltimore County rescue boat into the back of a Maryland Guard high clearance five-ton truck during a May17 training exercise. Soldiers from the Maryland Guard and Baltimore County Fire Department spent the day training and getting familiar with each other’s equipment to prepare for a hurricane or major flood in the state. |
On May 17, a small detachment of Maryland Guard Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment (Security & Support) in Edgewood, Md., with two, high clearance five-ton trucks and a Humvee traveled to Baltimore County Fire Department’s (BCFD) station #17 to rehearse and train with the counties swift water and flood rescue teams.
The fire department and the Maryland Guard recently recommitted to working together and formalized their relationship with a memorandum of agreement, which lays out the guidelines, terms and conditions for providing assistance during inland water, open water and swift water flood emergencies in Baltimore County.
“This is a pioneer thing that is going on,” said Fire Captain Robert D. Murray of Station #17. “This has never happened in Baltimore county or the state of Maryland.”
Murray, who welcomed the Guard to his station, said he was excited about the memorandum.
“I want to make sure that you understand that we really want to make this thing work,” said Murray. “This is not just a flash in the pan. If we have to go hot, you’re coming – and it’s going to happen.”
In recent years, hurricanes, tropical storms and heavy rains have inundated Maryland residents with extensive flooding. The 2003 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most destructive in the state’s history as rainfall peaked at seven inches when Hurricane Isabel hit almost every county in Maryland.
In the days leading up to and following the hurricane, more than 600 Maryland Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen answered the state’s call by providing security, doing house-to-house inspections and establishing check points.
Murray said he remembers Isabel well and made a pledge to the Soldiers and firefighters attending the training to learn from that experience.
[The BCFD] struggled during Isabel, according to Murray, as his firefighters worked 24-hour operations and quickly ran out of food and fresh water because everything was contaminated.
“I swear to God I will never let that happen again,” said Murray. “We need the Guard and this is a joint effort.”
Firefighter Mike J. Berna, who coordinates swift water and flood rescue operations for Baltimore County, said training together with the Maryland Guard before an actual flood emergency is critical.
“When the two resources don’t work well together, things go south real quick,” said Berna. “The rub and the problems come when your [the Guard’s] resources show up to meet our resources and nobody knows what to expect or what to do.”
Berna said the BCFD will rely heavily on the Guard’s high clearance vehicles, but they must be specifically assigned to a detailed mission.
“What we want to avoid is having National Guard high clearance vehicles deployed to flood disasters with little to no training and unclear mission orders,” said Berna. “We can’t afford to have failed rescue attempts, or these vehicles being stranded in the flood zone themselves and in need of rescue.”
If a major flood or hurricane occurred today, Berna said the Guard’s equipment would be critical to saving lives.
“We are now going to be able to get around to parts of our flooded county better because you have high clearance vehicles and we don’t,” said Berna.
Berna said his teams could have used more National Guard support and high clearance vehicles during Isabel.
“When we get into the flood zone like we experienced in Isabel, the flood was two miles away,” said Berna. “We had to drag our boats half way because the water wasn’t deep enough and we couldn’t engage the motor. We were really burning up a lot of valuable time.”
Sgt. George C. Payer, a Maryland Guardsmen, who participated in the day-long training event said he was glad to get the opportunity to train with the BCFD.
“You need to do these things,” said Payer, adding that even the basic stuff like loading boats from a trailer to a truck and taking them back off is important.
“We’re all in this together because we are all performing some kind of community service and we will have to work together,” said Payer. “This is what being in the Guard is all about.”