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Drill evaluates disaster response in progress

September 24, 2006|by DON AINES

MAUGANSVILLE - The Hatfield Family was just beginning its family reunion at Maugansville Ruritan Park Saturday morning when two cars drag racing on Maugansville Road crashed into the gathering, killing six and injuring dozens.

That was the scenario for Saturday's mass casualty disaster exercise, which brought together first responders from a dozen fire companies and ambulance services to practice the coordination and communication skills they will need in the event of a real emergency.

Two overturned vehicles, a partially collapsed picnic pavilion, a fuel spill and people calling out for help were the sights and sounds the firefighters and emergency medical personnel were confronted with as they arrived at the scene. Inflatable mannequins represented the dead, while volunteers splattered with fake blood acted out the roles of the injured.

"I was a child with a head laceration looking for my mommy," said Tiffany Hammond, one of the volunteers.

At one point, an air horn sounded, and the fire and rescue personnel left the dead and injured, gathering at the park's baseball field bleachers. A green-vested evaluator critiqued their performance before sending them back to work.

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One suggestion was that the command post be farther away from the triage area, where patients were on green, yellow and red tarpaulins indicating the severity of their injuries. In a real disaster, the cries of the injured could interfere with communications, the evaluator said.

"It's a little different from some of the previous exercises," said Richard Hopkins, a Hagerstown Fire Department battalion chief and the public information officer for the drill. Saturday's exercise had breaks built in to allow the exercise to be evaluated while in progress, he said.

"After the critique, they resume right where they left off," Hopkins said. "It's good because it's fresh in everyone's mind."

Shortly after the drill resumed, there was a mayday call that two firefighters were trapped as part of the pavilion collapsed - another hypothetical emergency for the rescuers to manage.

"It's very chaotic," said Michele Loveless, a emergency medical technician with the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway.

"Absolutely. Like most EMS calls," said Cora Domsky, a Halfway EMT and firefighter. Both women said the drill helped them and other first responders practice working together on a large-scale incident.

"We do it within our own company all the time," Domsky said. "We don't get a whole lot of opportunity to work with other companies."

"It's the most realistic environment we can give the providers," said John Latimer IV, director of Washington County Fire and Emergency Services.

The Washington County Fire and Rescue Association, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems also participated in planning and conducting the drill.

Fire and ambulance units from Hagerstown, Sharpsburg, Williamsport, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Halfway, Maugansville and Long Meadow participated in the drill, along with Community Rescue Service, Washington County Rehabilitation Unit and Washington County Special Operations.

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