MANITOWOC, Wis. — Last month, the Wisconsin National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team (CST) helped local authorities identify explosive substances discovered by firefighters responding to a home explosion resulting in minor injuries to two residents.
According to a March 15 news report in the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, rescue personnel initially suspected the basement contained a methamphetamine lab. A subsequent investigation by the Brown/Outagamie Bomb Squad and the state Department of Criminal Investigation indicated explosives rather than drugs. The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called to the scene, as well as the Manitowoc County Hazmat Team.
According to Lt. Col. Joseph Davison, 54th CST commander, the FBI requested his unit assist with identifying the hazards found in the home. The CST was just the right team for the job.
“The 54th CST is trained to identify and assess a wide range of hazards, to include chemical and biological warfare agents, radiological hazards and explosives,” Davison said. “We train on a regular basis with local hazmat teams and fire departments as well as local, state and federal law enforcement personnel to ensure we can integrate seamlessly during an incident.”
Davison said his unit made two entries into the home with personal protective equipment and several analytical devices. Unit members methodically searched the residence and categorized the most hazardous substances — which the Herald Times Reporter said included military and commercial explosives, homemade explosive devices and nitroglycerin.
The suspect told police he was making fireworks, according to the news report.
Davison said the 54th CST’s efforts allowed the local incident commander to safely remove the explosive substances from the residence, thereby greatly reducing risks to any other emergency responders entering the home. The information the 54th CST provided also helped the law enforcement investigation for evidentiary purposes.
“We are equipped with state-of-the-art detection equipment, which allows us to provide rapid and accurate information to the incident commander,” Davison said.
The response in Manitowoc is not unusual for the 54th CST. Davison said his unit — whose personnel are on short-notice recall 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year — has responded to at least eight real-world incidents over the past two years.
The 54th CST is Wisconsin’s full-time response team for emergencies or terrorist events involving weapons of mass destruction or toxic industrial chemicals. The unit assists local first responders by providing medical and technical advice, assisting in the detection assessment process, and serve as a liaison should additional military resources be called in. The Defense Department launched the CST program in 1998, and the Wisconsin National Guard fielded its own Civil Support Team — consisting of 22 Army and Air National Guard members — in 2006.
The 54th CST is a key component in the National Guard’s role as Wisconsin’s first military responder. The Wisconsin National Guard stands ready at all times to assist civil authorities here in Wisconsin or elsewhere during times of emergency. The National Guard simultaneously fulfills the other half of its dual-mission as the primary combat reserve of the United States Army and Air Force, ready to deploy worldwide in support of the federal mission.