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HomeNewsArchivesPuerto Rican Troops Grateful for V.I. Guard's Help in Battling Blaze

Puerto Rican Troops Grateful for V.I. Guard's Help in Battling Blaze

Puerto Rico National Guard Lt. Col. Carlos Rivera (center) thanks V.I. National Guard Maj. Kenneth S. Alleyne and the members of the VING's 23rd Civil Support Troop.Commanders from Puerto Rico’s National Guard commended their V.I. counterparts Wednesday and thanked them for backing them up during the recent fuel depot fire in San Juan.
A 10-member hazardous materials team from St. Croix—a “strike team” of the V.I. National Guard’s 23rd Civil Support Team—deployed to Puerto Rico on Oct. 23 to help some 300 Puerto Rico National Guardsmen contain the damage after an explosion rocked the capital and flames destroyed half of the fuel tanks at Caribbean Petroleum Corporation’s massive depot.
The nine men and one woman from St. Croix helped monitor toxins in the air at the U.S. Army’s Fort Buchanan, at the edge of the blaze, said Lt. Col. Carlos J. Rivera, commander of the Puerto Rican 22nd Civil Support Team.
When Rivera first arrived on the scene with his 20 soldiers early Friday morning, he said he knew immediately that he was undermanned. As the fire grew and daylight started to reveal the overwhelming scope of the disaster, Rivera said he realized he could not sustain 12-hour shifts indefinitely and so turned to the V.I. National Guard for help.
“We’ve trained with them, and we know them on a first-name basis,” he said in a phone interview from San Juan Wednesday.
“They are competent and willing to go in, no matter what the danger is. I knew they were up for it,” he said.
Through the chain of command, a request for help passed from Puerto Rico Governor Luis G. Fortuno to V.I. Gov. John deJongh Jr., who ordered a mobilization of the V.I. National Guard. The St. Croix-based Civil Support Team scrambled together gear and soldiers to send to San Juan.
“They were impressed by how fast we responded and got there,” said Maj. Kenneth Alleyne, commander of the 23rd Civil Support Team from St. Croix.
From there, he said, things happened fast.
“I was barely off the plane [in San Juan] crossing the tarmac to the hangar, and I was already getting a briefing by Col. Rivera,” he said.
“From the moment we hit the ground it was chaos, organized chaos,” Alleyne said of the scene, where hundreds of federal agents, fire crews, Puerto Rican police and military personnel coordinated on the ground.
“You just had literally thousands of people working, trying to get the situation under control,” he said.
Nearby Fort Buchanan was shut down, and it fell on the combined Puerto Rican-V.I. Guard soldiers to monitor toxins in the air and call for more evacuations, Rivera said. Both teams are trained to respond to major disasters and terrorism attacks that include chemical, biological, nuclear and high-explosive weapons.
With all 10 members of the V.I. Guard returned home safely as of Monday, Rivera complemented the soldiers on their performance.
“Major Alleyne brought his team in and put them on the line with us and for that I am eternally grateful,” he said. “I am indebted to the 23rd. They took a chance; they took a risk, and with all their training and experience they came through.”

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