MOUNT VERNON — Ambulances streaming into Knox Community Hospital, hospital workers donning hazmat suits, triage areas, and decontamination showers made the grounds of KCH look like a scene from a Hollywood movie Wednesday morning, but it was all part of a full-scale emergency training exercise.
The drill, conducted Wednesday morning at the Ohio Eastern Star Home and Knox Community Hospital, was designed to better prepare first responders and medical personnel for a serious hazmat emergency in Knox County.
Knox Community Hospital, the Knox County Local Emergency Planning Committee, and the Knox County Health Department joined forces to stage the exercise, which involved agencies including the Mount Vernon Fire Department, Ohio Eastern Star Home, the Mount Vernon Police Department, county fire and EMS agencies, and Knox County Emergency Management Agency.
Several expert evaluators were at the Ohio Eastern Star Home where the scenario began, and at KCH where the “victims” were transported during the drill.
MVFD Assistant Chief Chris Menapace spoke before the drill began to the 30 Mount Vernon High School drama club members who volunteered to play the role of casualties during the exercise.
Urging them to act as realistically as possible, he talked the students through acting as the injured victims. Menapace told the EMS crews that one of the chief goals of the exercise was to test the capabilities of the staff and facilities at KCH.
“We’re going to attempt to overtax their facilities,” he explained.
As the drama unfolded, a group of the students began to fight at a fictitious FFA convention on the Ohio Eastern Star grounds. During the fight, some chemical became unstable on a piece of farming equipment disturbed during the scuffle, and a cloud of an unknown chemical began to fill the air. As victims pretended to be overcome by the substance, a student called 9-1-1 to summon help.
Meanwhile at KCH, the staff was alerted that several people had been injured in a fight, and more had been exposed to an unknown chemical that was causing serious health effects. They prepared to be flooded with the injured and the exposed, as emergency protocols were quickly put into place.
At Ohio Eastern Star Home, Mike Treisch of the MVFD served as the incident commander, while Dr. Judy Schwartz served as incident commander at KCH. The two were able to communicate by radio, and run the scenes cooperatively.
A KCH representative was one of many agency representatives who responded to the Emergency Operations Center at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office which was opened when it became clear this was a large-scale county emergency requiring the cooperation of many agencies and departments.
“Our liaison out at the EOC will coordinate and let us know, and we will coordinate and let them know,” Schwartz explained as she finished one of many phone calls from other important players during the drill. “It’s like a dance, and we hope we’re dancing to the same tunes.”
In the command center at KCH, senior staff members were given assignments to coordinate the transportation, admittance, assessment, and treatment of the dozens of patients on their way to the emergency department.
Schwartz and the others could see the patient information on a large screen as it was inputted into the hospital’s computer system by IT specialist Curtis Adams, who served as situation unit leader during the exercise.