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Emergency Responders' Practice Drill Offers Learning Experience

17 August 2011  
These flames at the airport weren't a cause of worry yesterday, it was part of a planned Mass Casualty Incident Exercise.

firecloudImagine what would happen if a passenger plane collided with a helicopter at Ernest A Love field in Prescott. Would our local emergency personnel be prepared to handle the injuries and casualties associated with such an event? What about a bus accident, a large weather-related event or a hazardous materials release? Would the various agencies in the community be able to coordinate their efforts as a cohesive unit, providing care to the victims efficiently and appropriately? How would you transport a lot of people to safety or medical care? And would local hospitals be able to handle a lot of people at one time?

Those were the types of questions that yesterday's exercise was meant to answer.

Prescott Fire Department Spokesman Eric Kriwer described the exercise, stating the scenario is set up so it is mass casualties, multiple patients that we're dealing with at one time to test our system and how we interact with other agencies."

Kriwer continued, "We're not only testing the fire apparatus, the emergency medical response, but we're also testing all the extensions out, all the other people affected by an incident like this. How is the hospital going to handle this amount of patients that will come in as an influx with serious injuries. What's the impact to not only the Prescott area, but to outlying areas? DPS is here, Civil Air Patrol, National Guard - we're tapping into multiple resources to see how we work together and communicate."

Kriwer pointed out that this is a high risk, low frequency drill; incidents such as this don't happen very often in our community, which is why it is so important to test not only how they treat patients but the bigger picture.

In a traumatic situation, it might be important to use local resources in new ways, such as school buses. "A lot of times what we do when we come on a scene," Kriwer explained, "is to tell everyone that can walk or stand, that are alert and oriented, they can walk to one location. We can triage those patients and take them in one large transport like a school bus. The ambulances can be used for the more serious patients."

Trauma patients from an incident like this could be transported to Flagstaff, Phoenix or even as far away as Las Vegas, Kriwer stated.

Central Yavapai Fire District Assistant Chief Charlie Cook added, "We plan on making mistakes today. That's the whole idea of this drill. We want to make mistakes here, we don't want to make them on an actual incident."

Cook noted that there will be an after-action review of the drill today.

The Response

First, put the fire out.

Although the Prescott Fire Department doesn't have many mass casualty incidents, they have the equipment and knowledge to respond rapidly and effectively.

The crash truck was first on the scene, immediately dousing the fire with foam that quickly quenched the flames. Then a firefighter came out in a shiny silver suit - this suit is designed to withstand even hotter heat than a typical house fire would produce. Then other personnel start attending to the accident casualties.

Before long, a truck pulling a trailer arrived. This vehicle has enough supplies to care for over 100 injured people. While most personnel cared for the victims, another person stretched out color-coded tarps - green, yellow, red, black - meant to aid the emergency responders in triage efforts.

As for patient transport? Ambulances, school buses, helicopters, (including a black hawk from the National Guard) arrived to get the casualties where they needed to go.

How Did They Do?

What worked, what areas needed improvement? Was the response time fast enough? Were the patients triaged properly?

These questions and many more will all be part of the after-action review held today. But, in the meantime, residents in Yavapai County can be assured that their safety and care in the event of an emergency is at the top of the list.

Agencies involved in yesterdays drill included:

Prescott Airport Department
Prescott Fire Department
Prescott Police Department
Prescott Regional Communication Center
Central Yavapai Fire District
Chino Valley Fire District
Mayer Fire District
Groom Creek Fire District
Yavapai County Emergency Services
Life Line Ambulance
Native Air Ambulance
Department of Public Safety
Yavapai College
Yavapai Regional Medical Center
Prescott Unified School District
Civil Air Patrol
Trauma Intervention Program
Federal Aviation Administration
Army National Guard

Photo Gallery

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Lynne LaMaster