142nd FSRT and Oregon State Police bond over combined efforts during 2020 fire season

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steph Sawyer
  • 142nd Wing / Public Affairs

Over the November 2020 drill weekend, Oregon State Police officers Crystal Bell and Adam Turnbo met and exchanged tokens of appreciation with members of the 142nd Force Support Squadron’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT).

In September of this year, Oregon suffered devastating wildfires, causing significant and unprecedented environmental damage and loss of life. In response to these fires, Governor Kate Brown activated members of the 142nd Wing to aid in civilian firefighting efforts taking place throughout the state of Oregon. Following this, the 142nd’s FSRT was activated for the first time ever to aid various civilian agencies in the recovery of human remains resulting from the fires.

FSRT’s mission is domestic, and it’s only in the Air National Guard that it’s a function of force support. The role of FSRT is to be a force multiplier for the medical examiner or coroner. As the name indicates, team members aid in search and recovery efforts which often entail identification, processing, documentation, and transportation of remains. FSRT members are qualified to fill any of these roles as needed. Additionally, FSRT members are trained and evaluated on their ability to respond to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) events as part of CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package, also known as CERFP, enabling the team to respond to a range of possible domestic situations.

The deploying FSRT consisted of 9 individuals who would aid civilian forces in Albany, Oregon from September 12-22, 2020.
Capt. Angelica Hayes, the operations officer for the 142nd Force Support Squadron and FSRT officer in charge reflected on the opportunity and impact of the 142nd’s first FSRT mobilization.

“It’s hard to use positive words around such a terrible situation, but it was exciting to put into action all the things that we’ve been training for, to actually go out and to finally support that mission, it was an honor,” said Hayes.

Hayes said that although the work was very solemn and grim in nature, the team’s spirits remained high throughout the mission because they knew that what they were doing was important.

In order to prepare for tasks of this nature, members of FSRT undergo intensive technical training. In addition to this, they also intern with civilian medical examiners and disaster mobile operations. This allows members the opportunity to learn on the job as well as exposes them to the types of environments and situations they’re likely to see if and when they’re mobilized to serve their state and community.

For Oregon State Police forensics service division director, Crystal Bell, the effort in Albany was the largest incident command she had ever been a part of. Working with the Oregon Air National Guard’s FSRT, she said, was a great experience.

“Certainly when we go into a morgue situation, there’s a heaviness to it and it can be very intensive work,” said Bell. “What helps buoy us through those tough moments is the relationships and being able to lighten things up and enjoy each other’s company because that is difficult work that we do.”
During their time in Albany, FSRT worked with individuals specializing in anthropology, dentistry, finger printing, and autopsy.

Hayes said that working with these individuals and learning some of the science behind what they do and how their skills are utilized to ultimately bring the families of victims resolution was grounding for her.

Hayes said that although this mission was challenging, she and her team were dedicated and ready to serve, and ultimately found the experience rewarding because they were able to positively impact their home state in a time of crisis.

“It’s very meaningful that our core values are service before self and excellence in all we do because that’s really at the heart of what our job is about- just serving others,” said Hayes. “And to serve them in this way, to give them dignity and honor and respect when our community is going through something very traumatic…there’s nothing better than being able to help and support them.”

FSRT spent 1 ½ weeks serving the state of Oregon during this year’s fire season, in which time they aided in recovering four fatalities.