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Mass casualty unit displays resolve in rubble

RENO -- The Nevada National Guard's mass casualty response unit teamed with the American Red Cross and the Reno, Washoe and Sparks fire departments for catastrophe-response training in the rubble pile at the Regional Public Safety Training Center in Reno on March 22.

The unit, widely known by its acronym CERFP (pronounced "surf pea"), has a lengthy, tricky official title. The C is the acronym is derived from the military acronym CBRN, which stands for "chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive," and the ERFP stands for "enhanced response force package."

The primary responsibilities of the CERFP are to locate and extract victims from a contaminated environment, perform mass casualty decontamination, and provide treatment to stabilize patients for evacuation.

The March exercise marked the first annual training event for the CERFP since it first became certified in April 2012. The purpose of the exercise was to prepare the unit for its bi-annual certification in 2014. Nevada is one of 17 states with a certified CERFP unit, according to the Department of Defense.

Evaluators from the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center oversaw every phase of the operation, including initial staging, reconnaissance, search and rescue operations, casualty treatment and hazardous waste material disposal procedures.

"This exercise is critical for preparation of CERFP soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Eric Thomas, a CERFP evaluator from JITEC. "Not only do they participate in a valuable training exercise, but they receive valuable feedback from the evaluators on their performance."

     The CERFP is comprised of four elements.

Command and control is provided by the 17th Special Troops Battalion. The command team oversees CERFP activity and coordinates operations with the incident commander.

The 240th Engineer Company is the force behind the search and extraction operation. The unit provides the search and rescue teams whose primary task is to excavate and extract casualties from the debris site with the use of specialty equipment.

     The 1864th Transportation Company provides the CERFP's decontamination capabilities. The unit ensures the safety and the decontamination of all personnel and equipment exiting the site.

The medical team is from the Air Guard's 152nd Medical Group. The team is responsible for stabilizing and treating patients and helps prepare casualties for their evacuation.

The Guardsmen found the training site of the site just northeast of the Washoe County sheriff's office in north Reno contained plenty of daunting scenarios.

     "This training site is particularly challenging for us," said Capt. Brian Capra, the commander of the CERFP.

     An added element to the training was the inclusion of civilian first responders, Capra said. County firefighters from the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and Reno and Sparks firemen were also first responders to the rubble-site exercise.

"Adding civilian first responders to this exercise promoted inter-agency cohesion and fortitude across the board," said Sgt. 1st Class Nick Hall, an evaluator from JITEC. "First responders provide the necessary on-the-ground intelligence for military personnel to act upon. The CERFP unit provides an invaluable resource of catastrophe-response that helps strengthen overall state readiness."