The Washington Army National Guard was activated last month after a fatal mudslide killed more than 40 people and devastated the community of Oso in the Cascades foothills. In addition to adding forces to the search and rescue effort, the Guard was called to keep responders safe.
While search and rescue operations were being conducted at the impact area, several responders became ill due to toxins in the mud from household cleaners, septic systems, vehicles and other factors. This prompted incident command to implement further safety measures, including calling in the Washington Army National Guard’s 790th Chemical Company.
The 790th deployed Soldiers to the impact area to set up decontamination points on either side of the debris field, approximately a mile and a half apart. The “decon” points included a station where rescue workers and search dogs were hosed down; hand wash stations; and separated areas for before and after exposure to the mud.
“When we first got here, they were only using the fire hoses from the truck, and they weren’t doing as thorough of a decontamination job as we would,” said Private First Class Spencer Cutler. “We make sure every single piece of contaminant is off of them before they eat or return to where they sleep.”
Cutler said he found comfort in knowing that he could help the volunteers searching through debris and assisting response teams, many of whom were former residents of the stricken area looking for missing loved ones and their belongings.
“Many of the volunteers are people who used to live here, and they can try and find their peace of mind and closure from this without getting ill in the process,” Cutler said.
Private Ann Marie Gonzalez, who had served in the Guard only two months prior to the mudslide, said she was glad when she received the call from her unit to report to the site because she really wanted to help.
“It’s really humbling to see everything, to experience it and be able to help out,” Gonzalez said.
Recovery teams also helped to find personal papers, photos, children’s toys and even a horse saddle that the 790th was able to decontaminate and return.
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Original article written by Chelsea Barber, 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center, and published on NationalGuard.mil.