Photo Information

Lt. Cmdr. Jean Murray, a nurse corps officer with Headquarters and Service Company, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Force, treats a simulated casualty affected by a nerve agent here March 29. Corpsmen and doctors with CBIRF treat casualties of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive incident, both in the contaminated area and after they are decontaminated.

Photo by Cpl. Leslie Palmer

CBIRF corpsmen train to provide rare service

17 Apr 2008 | Cpl. Leslie Palmer

While many Navy hospital corpsmen find themselves doing their job on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, few have worked in a civilian emergency responder community, like local fire departments. But corpsmen with Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Force, work and train with civilian medical personnel and first responders on a regular basis.

Their primary mission is to provide medical care in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive incident. CBIRF corpsmen spent March 25-30 training and honing their skills on medical care in a simulated, contaminated area.

When responding to an incident, groups of Marines are dispatched to the contaminated area, while one corpsman is attached to each group of responders. The corpsmen render medical care in toxic areas as needed.

“Everything CBIRF does revolves around medical care,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Esper, a hospital corpsman assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, CBIRF. “Medical personnel travel down range and perform the first assessment of the casualties in the contaminated area. Two corpsmen are at the decontamination line and casualties can also receive medical care after being decontaminated at the medical stability tent,” he explained.

Corpsmen begin their training at Naval Hospital Corps School, Navy Base Great Lakes, Ill. After that, corpsmen assigned to CBIRF have to complete Field Medical Service School at either Camp Johnson in Jacksonville, N.C., or Camp Delmar in Oceanside, Calif. CBIRF corpsmen also complete the Basic Operations Course, which is aimed at giving all personnel the tools to operate in a contaminated environment. Operational Emergency Medical Skills Course and Confined Space medical training through Response International Group are follow-on training for the unit’s corpsmen. All of this training keeps the medical staff sharp in their skills, Esper said.

“We’re the only medical group in the world that actually does medical care (in a contaminated environment). We don’t walk past the casualties. We’ll take the time to give them medical care. Until someone else brings that to the table, CBIRF’s going to be the best at what we do,” Esper said.

When CBIRF responds to a chemical attack, groups of Marines travel with a corpsmen, who is a vital asset in the midst of mayhem, said Cpl. Constante Andres, Identification Equipment noncommissioned officer, Identification and Detection Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company.

“Corpsmen go (into the contaminated environment) with the Marine responders to provide initial triage to patients,” Andres explained. “They’ll give an overview as to what extent the casualty’s injuries are and provide medical care for victims, as well as injured responders.”

CBIRF is a life saving unit with many services, Andres said, but Marines need the medical expertise of corpsmen and Navy doctors.

“Being Marines, it’s our job to get to the victim. Some of us here have gone through the emergency medical technician course. We can supplement the care, but nothing beats a good corpsman down range who will be able to sustain life until we can get that casualty to the decontamination line,” Andres said.

When responding to a domestic terrorist attack, Navy medical personnel help make CBIRF a life-saving organization, further strengthening the Navy and Marine Corps team.