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When it comes to contamination, communication is key

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Allison Egan
  • Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

For the first time since 2008, the 628th Medical Clinic conducted a joint certification course with Decon L.L.C., including an intensive, three day patient decontamination exercise.


Though decontamination training occurs annually, certified Decon L.L.C. instructor Susan Osborne facilitated the integrated In Place Patient Decontamination drill to train members of the 628th Medical Clinic team in Hazardous Waste Operations. Once completed, the team is capable of recertifying other members of the IPPD team.


“We train on the different agents, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear - the CBRN agents,” Osborne said. “We teach the students lifesaving skills like how to triage the patients but it’s different when you’re suited up. For instance, you have to modify how to check for breathing, how to check for circulation and things like that when you’re in the suit.”


The exercise evaluates the IPPD team in three particular areas: mission capability, set-up completion and patient decontamination. First, the students are required to ensure the shelter is operational within 15 minutes. Second, the IPPD team must prepare to accept and decontaminate patients in the tent.


The setup is followed by the final and more challenging obstacle: communication. 


“Basically, their senses are muted when they’re in the suit. Hearing, visibility, touch are degraded, so they have to modify how they triage,” said Osborne. “They are looking for agent specific symptoms. They also have access to life saving medication for chemical exposures. Their goal is to stabilize the patient for decontamination and provide lifesaving medication.”


Once dressed in the CBRN gear, it is almost impossible to communicate verbally.


Tech. Sgt. Louis Lough, the IPPD’s outgoing team chief, emphasizes the importance of each team member knowing his or her role. “You can’t hear well in the suit,” Lough said, “So you have to know and trust that all of your teammates know what to do and when.”


Staff Sgt. Brittaney Wigginton, one of the 14 team members certified on September 15th, explains how physical movement also affects one’s ability to communicate. “It’s difficult when you wear the gloves and don’t have the dexterity you are so used to having without them.”


The group however, performed above expectations.


“The one thing I appreciated was all the communication we had when setting up,” Wigginton said. “I’ve been on the team for three and a half years and we’ve never had that much communication before.” 


The mission for Decon L.L.C. and the 628th Medical Clinic is to maintain a first-response team ready to confront chemical related emergencies. Osborne, an Air Force retiree from Public Health, enjoys staying connected to the military through these training exercises.


Together, both teams prepare Air Force medical responders to save lives, provide shelter and protect facilities in times of crisis.