North Adams Practices for Real Emergency
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The call came in at 2:06 p.m. this afternoon: A car collided with a tanker truck full of chlorine.
In less than 90 minutes, 12 people suspected of coming into contact with the toxic materials and the drivers of both vehicles had been decontaminated, run through triage and were being processed through North Adams Regional Hospital's Emergency Department.
The victims weren't real and neither was the emergency. The make-believe accident was set up as a drill for local emergency r
esponders at North Adams Regional Hospital. In addition to hospital and Northern Berkshire Healthcare staff, the North Adams Fire Department and North Adams Ambulance participated.
Northern Berkshire Healthcare is the lead agency in North Berkshire for emergency planning.
The emergency room parking lot was blocked off Tuesday, the bright yellow Mobile Decontamination Unit set up and "victims" segregated behind red tape to prevent further contamination.
The "drivers" of the fake vehicles were brought into a small room adjacent the emergency department's ambulance doors for decontamination before being hustled into the main ER.
Bystanders to the accident, including one or more who received "chemical burns," were washed down within the long portable decon tent. Laid on backboards, they were moved down a conveyerlike apparatus while being scrubbed by personnel in hazardous materials suits. Patients tagged as properly deconned — and very wet — were donned green plastic smocks; a couple who made it to the end without going through the full procedure were given red smocks and sent back to the start.
There were a few minor mixups (as one participant noted, "that's why we drill") but Don Boudreau, head of maintenance at NARH, kept things rolling. Dianne Cutillo, vice president for external affairs, was the incident commander, tracking her troops from a conference room above the parking lot. Fire Director Stephen Meranti was posting times and victims' names on a whiteboard and overseeing firefighters.
Evaluator Francis Morandi was keeping a sharp eye on the action, too. It was his first time volunteering with a drill, and he wondered if he was being too tough. "I like to pick things apart, maybe they'll be sorry they asked me."
Granted, the atmosphere was a little casual. The reporters and photographers wandering about would have been kept far from the action in a real emergency, gawkers would have been hustled out and the victims (some of them relatives of the drillers) wouldn't have their pictures taken so much.
But performing drills of this nature ensures everyone knows their role — and points out problems that can crop up in a real emergency.
Tags: emergency drill,