City fire chief working at his 2nd inauguration

At President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, then-Altoona Deputy Fire Chief Tim Hileman – a Pennsylvania National Guardsman – served in a command center near the Anacostia River, helping to oversee fellow guardsmen assisting D.C. police in crowd control.

On Monday, Hileman will participate in Obama’s second inauguration, slightly farther removed from the action and in a role that – unlike four years ago – will only become critical if things go critically wrong.

Hileman, now fire chief, will be in the command and control center as a member of the Homeland Response Force’s “chemical, biological, nuclear explosive enhanced” unit.

He’ll go into action if there is “some sort of terror incident,” helping to direct the extraction, decontamination and medical treatment of mass casualty victims.

“I certainly hope we’re not needed,” he said.

Hileman is a command sergeant major, senior enlisted adviser in his unit, which comprises members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Air National Guard.

Washington, D.C., is within the unit’s area of responsibility.

His role would be to work side-by-side with the commander to help make decisions about safety and troop placement during an incident.

When not in crisis, his responsibility is to ensure training is done right, safety rules are being followed and guardsmen have the right equipment and the right tools available at the right time.

If there are shortcomings, he reports back, so the problems can be fixed.

“I’m like the commander’s eyes and ears,” Hileman said.

He attributes his being placed in the position he’ll occupy this weekend at least partly to his “civilian skills” and responsibilities.

Those include his duties as chief of a fire department that also includes the county’s hazmat team and his work as the city’s emergency management director.

In his role this weekend, Hileman could be working ultimately under civilian command, which means it will be good to be “familiar with the civilian way of doing things,” he said.

“That makes it an easy pick sometimes,” he said of his being chosen for the task.

He expects that the Secret Service would have the ultimate authority if something happened.

There are 10 National Guard-based Homeland Response Force units, one per Federal Emergency Management Agency region, according to a Department of Defense fact sheet.

Each unit has about 570 members and should respond within six to 12 hours in a crisis via ground transport, or air transport if necessary, according to the fact sheet.

An online video recommended by Hileman showed his unit in a training exercise in 2011 at Fort Indiantown Gap, pretending to deal with an explosion and chemical attack at a football stadium with 60,000 in attendance.

Professional make-up artists prepared “victims,” who lay on the ground calling for help, Hileman said.

There were extraction teams, decontamination teams, medical teams and evacuation teams responding to help.

“We feel our unit is completely prepared,” said one soldier on the video. “Down to the littlest things – down to zip ties and strings.”

“It’s a mission we hope never to be mobilized for,” another soldier said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.