Firefighter drill simulates disaster

Exercise at old city hall helps prepare them for rare calls to mass casualty incidents

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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Anyone interested in volunteering with the citizen corps programs or emergency operation programs can email Cindy Stanley, emergency management coordinator with CRESA, at cindy.stanley@cla...

Three local fire agencies have been taking advantage of Vancouver’s vacant former city hall building over the past few weeks to practice responding to incidents involving more than 10 patients.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, but it’s important to be prepared when it does, said Mike Ciraulo, division chief of training for Clark County Fire & Rescue. His organization partnered with Clark County Fire District 6 and the Vancouver Fire Department on the drills.

“It’s always healthy for emergency responders to exercise and train themselves on low-frequency, high-risk situations,” Ciraulo said. “We have to practice on those because they don’t see this type of incident when they come to work. When it does happen, people’s lives are on the line.”

In mass casualty situations, resource management is the primary concern, said Training Capt. Frank Mazna with the Vancouver Fire Department. Firefighters need to assess patient conditions and who needs help first, he said.

On Thursday, the last day of drills at the former city hall, eight people, including a few Citizen Emergency Response Team volunteers, high school students and a Young Marine, volunteered to be pretend patients.

At the beginning of the day, they were set up with moulage — makeup made to look like injuries — by Clark County Fire District 6 EMS Capt. Mike Hollingsworth. Stage makeup application is an acquired skill for some, Hollingsworth said, but he developed his talent at a four-hour conference in Baltimore.

Volunteers and manikins were placed throughout the lower level of the building so firefighters could practice surveying the space for patients, transporting them to a staging area, providing medical assistance and organizing transport to local hospitals.

Blake Black, a senior at Fort Vancouver High School, donated his time to check off a few community service hours for his senior project. Besides, “it sounded pretty cool,” he said.

Other folks were already known in the first-response community.

Dave Shehorn of Felida started volunteering with CERT about four years ago after he retired. He said the program appealed to him because he wanted to get involved with the community and meet people. He heard about the volunteer opportunity through the program.

“I try to help the fire depart

ment as much as I can,” volunteer Ross Montgomery said in the green-carpeted lower levels of the building.

Montgomery has been in the CERT program since 2000. He’s also chairman of the city’s traffic safety alliance and president of the Airport Green Neighborhood Association. He says the volunteer program will allow him to help respond if an incident ever occurs in his neighborhood or the general area.

Thursday’s drill helped him see emergency response from a different angle. Playing the patient let him know how to act when he is helping others in an emergency situation, he said. “The more experience you have, the more responsive you’ll be at each incident,” he added.

Volunteers are also able to give firefighters similar feedback.

The key takeaway for firefighters? Communicate with the victims.

Firefighters should let victims know they will be coming back for them, said Capt. John Bulder, with the Vancouver Fire Department.

“Don’t underestimate the human factor,” he said.

Montgomery, who was told to be a vocally concerned patient with a partially amputated hand said the firefighters “were pretty expeditious” with their response.

Black, the student, told firefighters they did a good job communicating with patients. He thinks that would help someone who was actually in that situation stay calm.

“If I really had a piece of glass in my face, I’d probably be freaking out,” he told the firefighters.