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Drill helps prepare responders for an actual emergency

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By John Barnhart

he accident to which firefighters, rescue squad members and city police responded to Friday morning wasn’t real. It was just a drill.

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    This event had been planned for six months and police and emergency service providers knew that a drill was planned. However only department heads knew the day and time of the drill or what the scenario would be. This way, responders wouldn’t be thinking in advance about what they would do. Bedford City Police Chief Jim Day, who knew the details, said that he had two officers on patrol just as he normally would, and these guys hadn’t been told what day the drill would be, or any details.

    The purpose of the drill was to test Bedford Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, local EMS providers and police. In this case, the idea was to flood the emergency room with pediatric accident victims.

    According to Matt Nankin of Bedford Memorial Hospital, the golden rule for trauma patients is to get them to a trauma center within 60 minutes. The particular challenge for Bedford Memorial is that this hospital is not a pediatric trauma facility, so the emergency room needs to quickly determine who needs transported.

    The drill involved 19 victims ranging in age from 6 to 18 and the scenario was a wreck involving youth attending a health camp. It was designed to have plenty of snags. One victim was to be autistic and another was designated as a hemophiliac. Another was to be an asthmatic who was having an asthma attack triggered by stress. One, an older teen, was stuffed with padding and simulated a victim who was pregnant. Parents were designated to rush to the hospital and portray frantic parents seeking information on their children, adding to the chaos that the emergency room would face.

    The youth simulated injuries ranging from critical to 10 who were walking wounded. They each had a victim card that described their injuries and the symptoms they would show.

    The real part was that all the youth were indeed attending a health camp sponsored by Bedford Memorial Hospital. They were there learning about various health care professions.

    “They practiced all week,” said Anita Lowe, the hospital’s public relations coordinator.

    Drills of this sort are held on a  regular basis and intended to create something that, while being out of the ordinary, could happen. This lets the emergency room and everybody involved look at how they handled the situation to see if there is anything they need to improve. Nankin noted that a drill is the time to discover these problems, rather than discovering them while handling a real event.

    Emergency responders had to conduct triage on the scene. This is done to determine who needs transported to the hospital immediately and who can can either wait or be transported by other means. A number of the walking wounded rode to the hospital on fire trucks.

    Triage is necessary because an incident that produces a large number of injured patients is going to overwhelm the ability of rescue squads to transport everybody immediately by ambulance. Responders at the scene need to make sure that somebody who can wait isn’t transported ahead of somebody who can’t.

    The Red Cross also responded.

    Melissa Waugh,  a member of the board of the Red Cross’ Historic Virginia Chapter, said that volunteers on the scene bring water and food for emergency responders and victims. They also work to persuade family members and friends who have come to the accident scene to go to the hospital. If this had been a real accident, Waugh’s role would be to interact with the news media.

    Waugh said that the Red Cross also had volunteers responding to the accident who are trained professional counselors.

    Angie Vaughn, of Central Virginia Community Services, was one of them. Vaughn is a professional therapist for children. She said that she has been trained by FEMA to respond to a mass trauma incident. Her role at a real incident would be to serve as a back-up for emergency responders in case any children needed a counselor. Others counselors went to the emergency room and some would be assisting distraught relatives of the victims.