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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Responders Put To The Test

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mariah Andrew is a "victim" assisted by EMTS and firefighters during a June 19 multi-casualty drill.
View Slide Show
Pownal, Vt. - At first, the crash scene was ominously silent, with two damaged vehicles situated at odd angles on rain-slicked Church Street.

One passenger-filled car had a collapsed roof, badly damaged doors, and a passenger was missing; the second vehicle appeared to be "burning" with the "driver" trapped inside.

Respond To A 10-50 On Church Street, Unknown Injuries


Pownal firefighters work to cut a door from a vehicle during a simulated vehicle crash.
With a wail of sirens and staccato bursts of flashing red and white lights, firefighters and EMTs appeared at the crash site and various scenarios written into a June 19 evening mutual aid, multi-casualty drill began to play out.

Situations included the need to locate the missing passenger, who, as part of the exercise was a "fatality," arrange for a Lifeflight helicopter [simulated], multiple points of vehicle extracation [cutting away of the doors and roof of vehicles so that passengers may be removed]and a wide array of passenger "injuries" and "conditions."

Simulations included chest and lung "injuries," severely "burned" skin affecting a person with "asthma," "spinal cord injuries," and a leg "fracture."

While the scenarios were imagined and the crash scene simulated, responders did have to work around very real broken glass shards, twisted metal, and other hazards. A search to locate the "missing driver" was activated and searchers had to trek through tall wet grass and cover some distance to "discover" the "deceased person."

The exercise began at about 7:30 p.m. and by about 8:30 p.m., vehicle doors and a roof had been cut away, "survivors" had been assessed and given on-scene emergency medical aid, and all those with "injuries" were on their way to various "hospitals."

Members of the Pownal Fire Protective Association, the Pownal Valley Volunteer Fire department, the Pownal Rescue Squad, the Bennington Rescue Squad, and the Village Ambulance Service of Williamstown, Mass. participated during the drill. All participating entities have worked together during emergency situations in the past and are very likely to work with each other during future incidents.

"We Will Talk About The Things That Went Wrong"

PFPA Assistant Chief Amalio Jusino served as the drill safety officer. Most fire departments drill with their membership on a regular basis; staging drills with mutual assistance emergency response teams adds to preparedness and response efficiency, he said.

"This is a good opportunity to bring all these people together," Jusino said. "Tonight, we saw some new faces and we got people involved, some for the first time. There were some new firefighters and some new EMT personnel at this drill, and it was good for all of us."

Complacency and "good ole boy" mindsets do not have a place in post Sept. 11 emergency response organizations, Jusino said.

On-scene patient assessment was part of the drill.


"The [follow-up] critiquing is the key to all this," Jusino said. "10 years ago, everybody would have gone back to their stations and said 'great job, everything was great.' But these are different times and we will talk about the things that went wrong or the things that we could have done better."

After a post-drill snack of pizza and soft drinks, the drill participants gathered at the Pownal Rescue Squad squad house for in-depth review of the drill.

"This Is The Kind Of Community I Want To Live In"

Drill evaluators William "Bill" Hathaway, director of the Bennington Rescue Squad, and Christian Phelps, an EMS and emergency preparedness coordinator and emergency department registered nurse at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, were at the scene throughout the exercise, as were two Vermont State Police officers and town Selectman Steve Kauppi. State Rep. William "Bill" Botzow D-Pownal/Woodford observed the response as well.


Firefighters remove a vehicle roof so that passengers can be given emergency medical assistance.
"I was very impressed with the response and the communication [among responding units]," Botzow said. "I am very impressed that they took the initiative to do this, and I was very impressed with the scenarios."

The high number of participants and the willingness of each agency to listen to an evaluation of their actions bodes well for town residents, said Botzow.

"This is the kind of community I want to live in."

"That's What You Want For A Drill Like This"

PFPA Chief Craig O'Dell said that he was pleased with the drill.

"We were able to review quite a few things," he said.

Scott Feathers of the Pownal Rescue Squad served as the drill scene commander.

"The point is to find the mistakes," Feathers said. "There were some mistakes, but I do have to say some of them were drill-related."

For example, the location of a drill-created fictitious "hospital" became a point of confusion during the drill; Feathers pointed out that in a genuine emergency, the location of the hospitals would be known to the responders.

Pownal Valley fire department Assistant Chief Joel Howard said he believed the drill met its' goals.

EMTs had a stretcher at the ready during a June 19 emergency response drill that included responders from Pownal, Bennington, and Williamstown, Mass..


"It was excellent," he said. "It was a good learning experience. The people who put this drill together put a lot of thought into it and the really good thing is that nobody leaked the scenarios. We didn't know what we were coming into, and that's what you want for a drill like this."

Dennis McAuliffe of the Pownal Rescue Squad was among the drill organizers and observed the exercise as it progressed.

Prior to the start of the drill, McAuliffe said that the scenarios were designed to be challenging.

"We put quite a bit into it."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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