Guard and civilians prepare for next flooding disaster

WINFIELD, W.Va. — A Blackhawk helicopter fished “victims” from the Kanawha River near Winfield Wednesday as members of the West Virginia National Guard and civilian fire departments from across the region worked together in a joint training exercise.

“Anytime we can do joint training it’s really good for both us and for local fire and rescue,” said Colonel Todd Justice, Director of Joint Operations for the West Virginia National Guard.

W.Va. Air Guard pilot picks a “victim” from the Kanawha River during life saving exercises. PHOTO: WVNG/Erica Bodker

Involved in the drill was the National Guard’s All-Hazards Response Team, which is made up of members of the West Virginia Air and Army National Guard. Company C, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion (MEDEVAC), as well as Guard members who volunteered to be “rescued” from the water. Alongside them were members of the Clendenin, Glasgow, Charleston, and South Charleston Fire Departments. All of those departments have swiftwater rescue teams.

The groups staged near the Winfield Bridge going through various scenarios which are plausible in a time of high water or other natural disaster in West Virginia.

“I think you can tell by all of the teams who have come out from the local departments that everybody understands the value of this training,” said Justice.

Typically in an emergency situation, the fire department rescue teams would be the first on scene. The Guard units typically join in later and expand the operation. Colonel Justice said working together in training helps all members understand what the other is doing and what to expect in those tense situations.

“They get a feel for aviation and the rotary wash when we’re trying to do picks from the water. They get a feel for how to use our communication packages and we get a feel of how to work with our local partners because generally they are first on the ground,” he said.

The National Guard is always vital during floods in West Virginia. Their swiftwater rescue teams along with the aviation unit has become proficient in saving lives as water is rising.

Justice said these kinds of training exercises were common prior to Covid. They are hoping to get back holding them at least twice a year in the future.

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