MADISON, Wis. — When first responders came across a Madison apartment with unknown and potentially hazardous substances Feb. 20, they knew who they could turn to for additional expertise.
Thanks to years of trust and relationship-building, the Madison Fire Department reached out to the Wisconsin National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team (CST) who responded to assist law enforcement in identifying the hazards.
“Our number one thing last night and in any real-world response is to assist law enforcement with identifying an unknown hazard,” Lt. Col. Eric Leckel, the CST commander, said Wednesday. “They had multiple unknown hazards last night that we were able to assist with identifying what the substance was. In addition, we were able to assess the harmfulness of those unknown substances once we identified them, and then we advise on potential mitigation procedures.”
Leckel said the CST is another tool at the disposal of first responders and law enforcement aimed at keeping Wisconsinites safe. He credited the professionalism of the robust hazardous materials response network already in place in Wisconsin, and noted that it was thanks to the long-standing partnerships and relationships developed across the enterprise that help ensure unified responses.
The CST conducts monthly exercises with inter-agency partners across Wisconsin to develop relationships and familiarity with the CST and what capabilities it offers first responders.
“The local responders respond, and if they encounter something that exceeds their capacity, they will call us,” Leckel said. “And in Madison, that’s a pretty high threshold because they have such a professional and highly qualified hazmat response capacity with their fire department.”
Steven Davis, the chief of the Madison Fire Department, said the response involved a number of different agencies including the fire department’s hazardous materials team, the Madison Police Department, Dane County Sheriff, the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the National Guard, each of which bring different areas of expertise.
“We notified the sheriff’s department for their EOD (explosives ordnance disposal) expertise early on because you put the whole team together and we become a pretty good group with some pretty good expertise, and that’s what we’ve got assembled here tonight,” Davis said during a news conference Feb. 20.
Tim Mrowiec, the Madison Fire Department’s division chief for special operations, which includes the department’s hazmat team, said the CST is an invaluable resource.
“We do a lot of training with the CST,” he said. “They come out to our stations, or we’ll go out to their headquarters. We do joint exercises every year. It’s just a great resource to have those experts in our backyard.”
“Their professionalism is off the charts, and their knowledge, skills and abilities…they’re experts at their field,” he added. “Each individual position, everybody is an expert. We rely on them heavily for their knowledge, advice and expertise.”
The 54th CST is the Wisconsin National Guard’s full-time response team for emergencies or terrorist events that involve weapons of mass destruction, toxic industrial chemicals, hazardous materials or natural disasters. The CST is available to response to incident commanders 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to offer additional skills, equipment and expertise. The unit is a key element of the Wisconsin National Guard’s ability to fulfill its mission as the first military responder here at home in times of emergency. The National Guard simultaneously stands ready to fulfill its federal mission as the nation’s primary combat reserve for the Army and Air Force.
The Feb. 20 response ultimately involved approximately half of the 22 Soldiers and Airmen that make up the CST, and according to Leckel, that adaptability is part of what makes the CST an effective organization.
“That’s one of the unique capabilities of the Civil Support Team,” he said. “We’re a scalable and tailorable response capability to augment the first responders and inter-agency partners.”