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Volunteers practice for mass casualties

An actor playing a car accident victim in shock keeps Fire District 3 volunteers busy during a Mass Casualty Incident drill tuesday night on Bob Galbreath Road. - Matt Johnson
An actor playing a car accident victim in shock keeps Fire District 3 volunteers busy during a Mass Casualty Incident drill tuesday night on Bob Galbreath Road.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Even though they had 17 cars piled on top of one another, a hazardous waste spill and a couple of car fires to extinguish, Fire Protection District 3 volunteers Tuesday still held perhaps the most low-key mass casualty drills it has in years.

The drill, known as the Mass Casualty Incident, has been an annual event for the fire district since 1995. After staging a fake school shooting at South Whidbey High School last year -- an event that involved a SWAT team, helicopter rescues and scores of students acting at being victims -- this year's MCI seemed almost run-of-the-mill.

Looking to simulate a massive highway accident, the district spent about $3,200 to create an accident scene on Bob Galbreath Road Tuesday that looked like something out of a movie. With 50 volunteers in movie make-up -- which included oozing blood packs -- the scene was realistic enough to make firefighters, emergency medical technicians and Whidbey General Hospital paramedics feel they were in the middle of a disaster scene.

"It was awesome," said Jerry Beck, the public information officer for FD3 and coordinator for the MCI.

The job for the volunteers participating in the drill was both straightforward and complicated: Rescue as many people from the pileup as possible, neutralize the toxic spill threat and get it all done as quickly as possible.

But with the play actors in the pile-up yelling at them or pretending to have gone crazy, it was difficult for the FD3 volunteers to concentrate on getting people on stretchers and cutting open cars. A mechanical failure in one of the district's pneumatic "Jaws of Life" tool kits was a further complication, as was the status of the toxic spill, which for the purposes of the drill was just flour.

Dr. Roger Case, an observer charged with evaluating the volunteers' performance, said he could see the fake spill was a problem.

"They haven't addressed this scene at all," he said during the first hour of the event.

FD3 firefighters worked the scene until about 1:30 a.m., eventually "rescuing" 46 people and transporting many of them to Whidbey General Hospital for further training. Beck said the district will do another MCI in 2002.

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