For the past week, Midway Fire Rescue along with various county, state and federal officials have been participating in a joint regional exercise all over South Carolina, with most of the drill being done, right here in Georgetown County. The drill was a simulated hurricane strike that involved the military mobilization and technical rescue teams to respond to victim rescues (land, water) and structural collapse with victims.
The drill consisted with more than 2,000 South Carolina soldiers, airmen, and state guard members, along with National Guard units from Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia. There were also more than 5,000 participants from the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, County Emergency Management agencies, incident management teams, technical rescue teams like Georgetown County, Myrtle Beach and the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team.
Midway Fire Rescue and Georgetown County Fire & EMS jointly operate a technical rescue team that encompasses over 30 firefighters at various skill levels with specialized training in structural collapse, rope rescue, hazardous material response and many other specialized areas of training. The team also has a structural engineer assigned to the team that is very unique to most technical rescue teams.
The largest part of the drill came on the weekend at the old Choppee High School where a building was actually demolished for the exercise. The crews worked to rescue and free trapped victims for two operational periods of about eight hours each. Moulaged live victims and mannequins were then medevaced to Georgetown Airport, where the National Guard had established an air base complete with a mobile hospital from Carolina Med One. The crews worked hard showing the their skills, not just to the other rescue teams there, but also to the national guard teams that worked with the crews during the week.
In addition to the Choppee site Midway Fire Rescue was involved in several other exercise activities. The department provided ground coordination, engine company stand-by, and fire boat standby for numerous helicopter victim hoist missions resulting in the “rescue” of over 200 victims from numerous locations. The exercise ended with Midway Fire Rescue ground crews coordinating water bucket drops by one of South Carolina National Guard’s Blackhawks on a simulated wild fire in Stables Park.
This was a large scale exercise that does not happen often but puts the teams into as real of an emergency as it can get, the crews gained countless hours of experience from this exercise. Especially rare is the opportunity for local, state, federal, and military personnel to be able to work together in such a realistic environment. Numerous connections were made and lines of communications were tested, affirmed, or opened. The hard work by all the participants will better prepare them to take care the citizens they serve.