By Chris Henrickson, special to the Monitor
Photos by Chris Hendrickson
A man was wrestled to the ground by three Snohomish County Sheriff’s Officers last week, just off of Main Street in Sultan. The man, Sultan resident Mark Colburn, repeatedly rushed through a yellow caution-tape barrier set up by local authorities, shouting out inquiries as to the welfare of his child.
But it was all in good fun.
Audience participation was encouraged by officials at Snohomish County Fire Department District 5’s Mass Casualty Training Exercise which took place in Sultan at First and Alder on Tuesday, April 9. A scenario was created in which a school bus full of students had collided with a truck and rolled over onto its side. Sultan Fire District 5 led the drill, receiving assistance from the Sultan School District, the City of Sultan, Airlift Northwest, Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management, the Community Emergency Response Team and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office.
Twenty-six Sultan High School students participated as actors, portraying injured accident victims, and were “rescued” from the immobilized bus. Simulated injuries ranged from mild to severe, and included one “code black” or deceased.
Bystanders were asked to react, as well, in an effort to add to the realism of the situation.
District 5 Fire Chief Merlin Halverson considered the training event a great success.
“Mass casualty incidents are among the most complex and stressful events faced by emergency responders. They challenge our ability to provide resources, they challenge our skills and they challenge us emotionally. This is particularly so when children are involved,” stated Halverson.
“These large scale drills, although difficult and expensive to produce, closely imitate an actual event. This drill gave us confidence in our MCI plan, in our training and in our ability to work seamlessly with multiple agencies; it also provided direction for ongoing training and equipment purchases. Such drills assure the public that, when called upon, the fire service will respond confidently and competently,” Halverson continued.
The exercise was meant to simulate a mass casualty incident as closely to reality as possible. Injured students wore strategic makeup to portray bruising, contusions, and other wounds. Students playing victims who remained ambulatory were led off the bus through the front windshield, which had been previously removed. To improve access to the students portraying victims more severely injured, emergency workers sawed through the roof of the bus, creating a hatch.
Injured students were carried off the bus on stretchers and then brought to a triage area, with EMTs realistically emulating the process by which injured people are sorted based on how imminent their need for medical care.
The scene was wrought with authenticity as additional emergency workers converged on the triage area where they tended to the injured students. They collected data, assessed injuries, spread blankets, bandaged wounds and loaded the more seriously injured students into ambulances for theoretical transport to a local hospital.
An emergency transport helicopter was also present.
“One of the challenges that ends up coming into play by the time it wraps up and people start to get back to normal, is that it’s a pretty heavy emotional experience for the student actors involved,” stated Sultan School Superintendent Dan Chaplik. “It seems so real.”
All hazards were removed from the bus prior to the exercise, including glass, fuel and sharp metal.
Observers clustered in front of Snohomish County’s mobile Incident Command and Communication Center to watch and critique the event, including representatives from all agencies involved in the drill, Sultan city and school officials, members of the media and local residents.
“Our community is amazing. We hope that we will never need to use the techniques that were tested during the MCI. However, if we do, I know we will be able to save more lives due to the practice,” said Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick.
Valley General Hospital also participated in the drill, assessing how it would handle a sudden large influx of accident victims.