Emergency personnel rescue victims of an auto accident during training exercise in Gold Beach. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
Making Curry County accident free may be impossible, but the members of Gold Beach and Ophir fire departments – with assistance from Brookings, Port Orford, and Harbor fire departments – and employees of Curry General Hospital, Curry Medical Center and Cal-Ore Life Flight Ground and Air Ambulance put their recent training to the test in Saturday’s Mass Casualty Incident Response exercise.
The day began with a briefing offered by Cal-Ore General Manager Joe Gregorio, who was responsible for putting the exercise together, to let the departments know to what they would be responding: a two car accident at the old mill site on Jerry’s Flat Road, or a boiler explosion at the Ophir fire hall.
“We had two scenarios with 16 patients,” Gregorio explained. “Eight patients at the old mill site with one dead, and seven patients at Ophir.”
Due to the seriousness of the fictitious incidents, the Ophir department called in mutual aid from the Port Orford fire department which sent four people to assist.
After the briefing, each of the trainees involved went to their respective ambulances, rescue vehicles or fire trucks to await the actual call.
When the call came, the air filled with a cacophony of sirens as each of the departments responded to their assigned areas.
According to Gregorio the exercise happened in real time as much as possible.
“In a real situation we might have a delay of 5 to 10 minutes as the volunteers got to the station,” he said, “but the rest of the response was conducted in as close to real time as we could.”
The action at the old mill site was intense, with eight victims in various stages of trauma resulting from a two-vehicle, head-on collision.
Injuries ranged from simple contusions to multiple broken bones, including compound fractures, face and head lacerations and possible back and neck injuries.
Each of the patients had a tag around their neck indicating the extent of their injuries and the trainees began treating the victims.
The site even included a simulated death as one of the volunteer victims lay motionless on the ground as rescue personnel worked around him to save the other victims.
The volunteer victims were all students of an emergency medical technician (EMT) class sponsored by Cal-Ore, and had to lay on the ground in the cold, rainy weather until they could be transported to the hospital.
“At least they covered us with a jacket or two,” a victim was overheard saying at the post-incident lunch. “I was freezing.”
Most of the EMT students are volunteers at either Brookings or Harbor fire departments and, once the victim slots were filled, the other students were assigned to Cal-Ore medic units and assisted in responding to the incidents.
At the Ophir site, one of the engine bays was turned into the scene of a boiler explosion with the resultant injuries including burns, contusions and broken bones.
The responding crews donned SCBA breathing gear, verified the fire was out and ventilated the area to clear the smoke-filled room.
Once the room was clear, emergency response personnel treated the seven victims and prepared them for transport to Curry General Hospital.
The scene at the hospital was one of controlled chaos as hospital staff assessed and treated victims of each incident as they came in, provided necessary treatment and then discharged them to make room for the next wave.
The waves became sporadic at one point during the exercise because Cal-Ore ambulance crews responded to five real medical emergency calls that were not part of the drill with two of the ambulances tasked to the transport of victims.
“We had five calls in Brookings that weren’t part of the exercise,” Gregorio explained. “We were able to respond to those and keep one ambulance on duty in Gold Beach while still keeping the exercise going.”
Of the drill victims, all but two were sent to the hospital, and those two were transported to Curry Medical Center in Brookings to simulate what would happen when the hospital had more patients than it could handle.
According to Gregorio, the exercise went smoothly with only a couple of exceptions.
“We could use some work on communications,” he explained. “We had some departments that weren’t able to communicate on the same frequency as the hospital and the Cal-Ore staff, so we had to use the main channels.
“We need to have everyone on the same frequency so we can communicate better.”
Ken Quiner, the Region 3 Health Care and Emergency Preparedness liaison for the State of Oregon, agreed that the exercise was smooth.
“I was very excited to come and watch you guys do this,” he said. “And, I was very impressed with how smoothly everything went. Especially with how many agencies were involved.”
Cal-Ore has been very involved with the hospital and the local agencies, providing triage training and working with Curry General CEO Bill McMillan on the hospital’s incident command system (ICS) training.
For this exercise, Cal-Ore provided the supplies needed to treat the victims as well as five ambulances, 11 paramedics and four EMT intermediates to bolster the volunteers.
“I think it went really well,” Gregorio said. “We’ve spent a lot of time working on triage with the departments and I’ve been helping Curry General with their ICS training, so I drew up the two scenarios and the departments all did a great job.”
There are plans to do emergency response training with both the Harbor and Brookings fire departments in the future, according to Gregorio.
“If Curry County really looks at the services they have here, they’d be surprised,” he said. “We have over 300 volunteers. If something was to happen, we could manage with the resources we have.
“This community is in pretty good shape.”