WAUKESHA, Wis. — A company of Wisconsin Army National Guard medical specialists worked alongside their civilian first responder counterparts March 4 to build valuable relationships and enhance their ability to respond in times of emergency.
The Waukesha-based 135th Area Support Medical Company and fire department personnel from the town of Waukesha, Vernon, Waterford, Wales-Genesee and Lake Country Fire and Rescue spent Sunday morning at Prairie Elementary School learning how to work side-by-side during an exercise that simulated a number of medical scenarios. As Wisconsin’s first military responder, supporting local authorities is part of the Wisconsin National Guard’s dual mission, along with serving as the nation’s primary combat reserve.
Flight for Life and Aurora Summit Hospital also participated in the exercise.
Sgt. Kevin Lovelace of the 135th ASMC helped put the training event together. A traditional Guard member who drills with his unit once a month, Lovelace has worked in the civilian sector for the past 10 years in a pre-hospital emergency setting. He holds an associate degree in fire protection and is licensed as a critical-care paramedic. For the past few years he has worked with Lake Country Fire and Rescue.
“It’s not something that’s done all that often,” said 1st Sgt. Tyler Gerrits. “It’s good to see people working together and effectively treating large numbers of [simulated] casualties to ultimately serve our community.”
Gerrits said it was important for civilian first responders to understand the techniques and equipment National Guard members use when treating and evacuating casualties, and vice versa.
“It’s great that we have this opportunity to learn from each other,” Gerrits said.
Katie Bradley, a member of the town of Waukesha fire department, agreed.
“It’s definitely been good meeting and interacting with other fire services and working with various military companies,” she said. “If something happens locally, we’re going to be working with the 135th ASMC so it’s good to meet everybody before. It’s better to meet a few familiar faces before going into a high-stakes environment rather than working with someone for the first time when lives are at stake.”
According to Sgt. Mike Glime, the exercise also revealed potential impediments.
“I was in charge of military communications, and it was not as smooth as it should be,” Glime said, “which is very realistic for military communications. It helped us understand how we may have to relay communications when we are dealing with different ambulances that go outside the range of our radios, how we can get messages to them and get around whatever issues we may be facing.”
1st Lt. Chris Roelke worked as a patient hold officer during the exercise.
“We had multiple patients coming in and the combat medics were able to triage, treat and stabilize patients — get that real hands-on experience,” Roelke said. The scenario also presented medics with patients whose conditions began to deteriorate, which required upgrading their evacuation priority.
Roelke said this exercise reminded him of the routine training he experienced as an active-duty Marine.
“Hands-on, high-speed, pull out all the stops and train for what you expect in a worst-case scenario,” he said.
Sgt. Katrina Pierson applied moulage — in this case, simulated wounds — to casualties as part of the exercise.
“Seeing how local agencies responded to patients with moulage helped me understand how an event like this will be taken care of,” she said.
During a post-exercise discussion, it was learned that staff at Aurora Summit Hospital so appreciated the moulage that they took photos.
Lovelace appreciated all the civilian agencies who took part in the exercise, and said everyone worked well together.
“Seeing that cohesive hand-in-hand collaboration was pretty cool,” he said. “It made all this work going into the training worthwhile — every hour of sleep that I lost.”
Lovelace said he is contemplating a larger collaborative exercise in the future. Because some members of the 135th ASMC also are part of the Wisconsin National Guard’s CERFP, a force package designed to respond to weapons of mass destruction events, collapsed buildings and hazardous materials, Sunday’s training offered realistic preparation for that particular mission.
While the training was successful, Maj. Shawn Murphy, a senior physician’s assistant with the 135th ASMC, hoped it would never be needed.
“If you’re bringing patients like this to us someday, the whole world as we know it has turned upside down,” Murphy said to the civilian first responders. “Great working with you, but I hope you never bring us patients.”
Spc. Matthew Stoppenbach contributed to this report.