MOUNT VERNON — A nursing home roof torn off, utilities down, injured victims scattered across the ground, and a damaged truck carrying a full load of liquid propane thrown in to make things interesting, were challenges faced by emergency personnel who participated in a mock disaster drill at the Ohio Eastern Star Home, Monday afternoon.
Members of the Mount Vernon and College Township fire departments, as well as Fredericktown EMS, participated in the afternoon’s training. Staff at Knox Community Hospital waited across town for the “casualties” to begin arriving to test their staff and procedures.
MVFD Assistant Chief Chris Menapace told personnel on scene that the drill would unfold as if a tornado had touched down at the nursing home during a car show with crowds gathered on the grounds.
The injured would be laying throughout the area and need to be found and treated. The residents in the damaged part of the nursing home would need to be evacuated. The hospital would be notified, and EMS crews would transport the victims on a priority basis after they were triaged and placed in squads.
Fifteen volunteers, including some Mount Vernon High School students, played the roles of the injured. With stage makeup and tags which revealed details about their supposed injuries, they waited for firefighters and medics to find and assist them.
The nursing home staff participated in the drill, evacuating the residents in the affected wing of the home.
MVFD Lt. Chad Christopher served as the incident commander during the exercise. He placed MVFD Paramedic Jake Frederick in charge of triaging the injured. Tags illustrating the severity of the patient’s injuries were placed on their clothing.
The young people on the ground were treated as if their lives depended on it. Medics used backboards and immobilization equipment to lift the actors into waiting squads.
Volunteer Sierra Moss waited on the front lawn of the home under the trees until three MVFD firefighters arrived with a backboard. Reading from the tag Moss wore, which identified her as a woman with an open skull fracture, Firefighter Trevor Williams radioed a request for a helicopter.
“We’re not really going on a helicopter, are we?” Moss asked, affected by the realism of the firefighters’ actions.
Reassured she would not be flying anywhere, Moss was loaded into a squad for transport with other “patients.”
The volunteers said they enjoyed helping with the drill.
“It was pretty cool,” said 11-year-old Cheyenne Caynor of Danville, with pretend wounds covering her face.
“I thought it was awesome,” 14-year-old Ethan Hyatt of Mount Vernon said before being lifted into a squad.
A Wise Choice truck was in the parking lot, and treated as if it had overturned, injuring the driver. Thad Blubaugh explained to firefighters the emergency procedures surrounding the shutoff and containment of the liquid propane on the truck.
At KCH, staff implemented disaster procedures to prepare for the incoming flood of hypothetical patients with differing levels of injuries.
Knox County EMA Director Brian Hess activated the Emergency Operations Center, at the request of Christopher.
Once the victims were transported, the fire and EMS crews met to discuss the successes and lessons from the experience. Staff from Ohio Eastern Star joined the discussion.
“It was effective training for our staff,” said Wendy Hyatt, Ohio Eastern Star controller, adding that new training procedures would be developed from the lessons learned.
Christopher said after the drill that any shortfalls revealed during the exercise were key to improving procedures for actual disasters.
“You can’t look at it as a negative if you did something wrong; you turn it into a positive and use it as a building block for your department,” he said.
Once the emergency crews returned to their stations, officials met at KCH for an after-action meeting.
Menapace said he was pleased with the afternoon’s training, despite having to work around real emergencies which arose elsewhere in the MVFD district during the exercise, taking some personnel and equipment away from the drill.
Katy Breeze, R.N., KCH emergency department educator, said the medics did a good job listing information on the triage tags. Communication issues and ideas for improving the tagging system were talked about, and shared ideas for future exercises. The group agreed the relationship between the agencies in Knox County would serve its citizens in a disaster.
“We have the best people, we have the people who show up,” said Jan Legg, KCH safety officer and risk coordinato. “We all have the same goals and the same purpose.”