A few weeks ago I began a summer internship with the University of Vermont Medical Center in the Marketing & Communications Department. About two days after I began working, an e-mail went around requesting volunteers for a drill that would occur on June 25, 2011. It would be a Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) drill put on through collaborative efforts on the part of the Burlington Airport, the EMT/Rescue teams throughout Chittenden County, and the UVM Medical Center. It caught my interest and I signed up right away, despite the painfully early start time of 6:45 AM on a Saturday. Ouch.
Fast forward two weeks, and you’d find me pulling up to the parking lot next to the Airport Maintenance Building with a giant McDonald’s iced coffee in my hand. The first step for volunteers was to sign in & receive an “injury”. The premise behind this particular drill was that there was going to be a bomb attack while the airplane was still on the ground and the local authorities would be notified to respond to the incident. I am not going to lie, I was hoping for a more severe fake injury. Not because I have some sort of death wish, but because I wanted to participate in the process of ‘moulaging’, where certain victims (or shall we say, ‘volunteers’) were made up to reflect their injuries. Here was my injury description: I jumped from the plane and had an awkward landing. I tried to get as far away from the plane as possible, but had to stop because it hurt so much to walk. When I fell, I heard and felt some bones snapping (This is how I know I could never be a doctor/EMT…just that sentence makes me cringe). I escaped the explosion with merely a broken wrist and ankle, hardly enough of an injury to warrant the moulage. Darn.
For the next hour or so, we waited while those with more severe simulated injuries received moulage and we also ate breakfast, which was graciously provided by the American Red Cross. Afterwards we ‘victims’ headed out to our doomsday site: an airplane hanger. Perhaps not super realistic, but as someone who had to sit on the ground for a long period of time, I was thrilled to be inside for the drill; in true Vermont fashion, it rained all day on Saturday. The initial call that there had been a (simulated) hijacking and bomb threat was made, and we were told to take our positions.
Over the next hour I witnessed the response to a traumatic MCI. The firemen arrived and, after clearing the scene of certain hazards, verified that others could enter the scene to provide assistance. The first firefighters to enter the simulated crash scene assessed each victim and gave them either a green, yellow, red, or black tag depending on the severity of their injuries. Using that information, EMTs entered the scene and evacuated those who needed help right away (those with a red tag). I was deemed ‘yellow’ meaning I needed assistance, but my breaks weren’t as severe, as say, the guy who was having a heart attack or those who were alive but unconscious. Fair assessment, I’d say.
I watched as the more serious cases were treated in a triage station set up on the scene. I was impressed by the coordination as I watched EMTs take victims to the triage station, stabilize them, then send them along to the UVM Medical Center in the next available ambulance. The injuries ranged from a heart attack to burns, from a broken ankle to a concussion, and everything in between. Soon, it was my turn. I was helped over to the triage area for those with a yellow tag where EMTs asked me a lot of questions, “checked” my blood pressure (as in, read my blood pressure from my character sheet. I’m a good actress, but not so good that I can fake an injury-like blood pressure), and stayed with me until an ambulance was ready to take me to the hospital.
I am glad that these kinds of drills happen on a regular basis for two reasons. First, if I ever do find myself in a really unfortunate situation (knock on wood, knock on wood!), I’d rather the kinks be worked out while I am waiting for fake assistance with a fake ankle break. Second, the regularity of these events means that if I keep volunteering, I’m bound to be assigned a serious injury sooner or later that involves fake blood or a fake pole sticking out of my leg!
In all seriousness though, these events help the emergency responders know what works and what doesn’t work in a situation where no one really gets hurt. Responding to a Mass Casualty Incident requires the full attention of many different law enforcement, fire, and rescue agencies. Making sure these agencies know how to work together in such an incident is crucial to ensuring a rapid and effective response. And I don’t know about you, but if I can help make sure that they are providing the best assistance possible in a real worst case scenario, that sounds like a Saturday morning well spent!
Michelle Searer is an intern in the Marketing & Communications Department at the UVM Medical Center, and a senior at the University of Vermont.