Emergency personnel learn from disaster drill

By Amanda McBride The Choctaw Plaindealer

Local emergency response personnel and the staff of the hospital are now more equipped to handle a disaster if one happens in Choctaw County.

The Pioneer Community Hospital of Choctaw held a disaster drill on December 13 simulating a fire at the Choctaw County Community Center with mass injuries.

“The hospital has to conduct two disaster drills annually. For this drill, we included all of the local emergency response personnel to test everyone’s disaster plan,” said Chrysta Bates, chief nursing officer at PCH-Choctaw.

First on the scene were Ackerman Police Department and the Choctaw County Sheriff’s Office for traffic control. MedStat Emergency Services (ambulance service) and the Ackerman Fire Department were next on scene.

“MedStat’s primary role today was to triage and transport each patient as we would during a real emergency. This disaster drill was for Pioneer Hospital to experience the true effect, if indeed there was a community disaster in Choctaw County,” said Tim Wade, NREMT- Paramedic Operations Manager for Attala, Choctaw and Holmes County with MedStat.

MedStat emergency personnel quickly began assessing patients separating the critically injured from the minor injuries.

Students from the Health Science class at the Choctaw County Career and Technology Center served as the “victims.”

“Each student was given a tag that listed their injuries. All injuries were explained to the students so they could appropriately describe their individual injuries to the nurses and first responders. Injuries ranged from minor to severe,” said Kim Thomas, Health Science teacher about the students’ role in the disaster drill.

AFD quickly donned turnout gear and made a sweep of the kitchen area of the community center where the “fire” took place then helped MedStat staff assess patients.

Chris Coleman, county fire coordinator described AFD’s role in the drill.

“AFD simulated a response to a fire inside the kitchen area of the community center, helped EMS with patient care, and secured landing zones for the Air Ambulances that were utilized for the drill.”

The severely injured patients were immediately transported to the Pioneer Hospital and one was “transported” by MedStat Air, the helicopter.

The rest of the patients were then transported by a Choctaw County School District bus to the hospital to treat their injuries.

“The hospital’s role is to treat the patients once triaged and to coordinate with local 911, fire department, sheriff’s office, police department, and EMS to provide the best possible care in the quickest amount of time. The hospital not only tested its disaster plan, but also the alpha and bravo trauma alerts,” said Bates.

Each emergency response personnel practiced procedures they would use in a real disaster.

“We practiced Simple Triage And Rapid Treatment (START). We also utilized all available resources to get each patient to the hospital in a timely manner. Examples of those resources were using more ambulances, MedStat’s helicopter, and school buses for mass transportation. The Choctaw County EMA director, nurses, and firefighters were utilized as well,” said Wade.

AFD firemen were able to practice interior attack skills and treating patients.

“The firemen responded in full turnout and safety gear and made an interior attack from the rear of the building extinguishing the simulated grease fire. They were also able to practice their skills in bandaging, packaging, and taking vitals on patients to assist EMS in transport of the patients who were hurt,” said Coleman.

The “victims” or students were able to see first hand how emergency medical services work together.

“I hoped that the students would learn more about how the hospital and the emergency medical services in our community work together during a disaster,” said Thomas.

“Participating in this drill allowed the students to get a first hand glimpse of the roles that doctors, nurses, paramedics, fire fighters, and other members of the health care team play in a disaster situation,” she added.

PCH-Choctaw learned that crowd control is a major problem in a disaster.

“Through this drill, hospital personnel learned that crowd control is a major problem during disaster events. We also learned that we need to designate an area for family members,” said Bates.

All local emergency response teams said it’s important to practice disaster drills so that staff can be prepared for a real disaster if one happens.

“The more you practice these disaster drills, the more everyone involved will know how to respond in a real disaster. MedStat-EMS was only a part of the role in today’s exercise. It takes all agencies working together (EMS, fire, police, EMA, hospital staff) to get the patients to the hospital so they will receive the medical care they need in a real disaster,” said Wade.

The hospital staff hopes that they can provide fast and efficient care.

“It is very important to conduct these drills so that in the event of an actual disaster emergency, the staff will be prepared. Our hope is that the care provided will be fast, efficient, and therapeutic,” said Bates.

It is important for volunteer firemen to practice these drills so they can gain knowledge and experience in something they may not practice everyday.

“Its vital that the fire department take the time to be involved in drills like this because its very easy as volunteers who do not respond to emergencies each and every day to get “tunnel vision” when the alarm sounds and help is needed,” said Coleman.

“Training such as this gives each volunteer the opportunity to utilize skills and techniques which they are knowledgeable in doing but might not have the opportunity to utilize on a day to day basis. As with any job, practice and repetition is what helps to keep the focus on the task at hand. Especially in a high pressure situation or environment when the need for help arises and the adrenaline begins to flow. Working with the other agencies such as EMS and Law Enforcement also helps to provide that sense of security to the fire department and other agencies because it allows each one to know what to expect from the other in a true disaster,” Coleman added.