Cedar Rapids departments train for mass casualty incidents

First responders learn what it takes to coordinate a multi-agency response

Published: December 12 2013 | 2:56 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:47 am in
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What would you do if you came upon a public safety incident - say, a multi-vehicle collision - with dozens of victims?

Could you coordinate a multi-agency response? Could you determine which patients need more care than others?

Multi Casualty Incidents - those which involve more patients or those that are more severe than the responding agency has resources for - are relatively uncommon. But, fire department officials say it's imperative to train for such events, especially here in Cedar Rapids.

"We live in a target-rich environment here in Cedar Rapids," said Jason Andrews, the emergency medical service training captain at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, referring to the city's large office buildings, sporting complexes, high volume interstate and industrial areas. "It really should be on the back of (firefighters') minds at all times."

Andrews said the fire department stages mass casualty incident training exercises twice a year. On Thursday, the fire department - along with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Area Ambulance Service and representatives from Mercy and Saint Luke's hospitals - hosted a mock mass casualty incident inside the Central Station apparatus bay. The scenario involved emergency personnel responding to a vehicle rollover that damaged a scaffolding in a nearby building and injured more than a dozen people. Students from Kirkwood Community College's EMS program played the victims, with many of them sporting realistic looking injuries including compound bone fractures, burns and exposed entrails.

The mock incident was the culmination of a two-day training course, "Managing a MCI," hosted at the Central Station and put on by Task Force 1, a Maryland-based emergency services consulting and training firm that provides instruction on various topics for fire and emergency services departments across the county. The company was started in 2005 by Ron Richards, who previously worked in various emergency services positions for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The course provided fire fighters, EMS personnel, police and hospital staff with instruction on responding to a mass casualty incident by establishing an incident command service, which is essentially an on-scene hierarchy used to delegate responsibilities and coordinate the various agencies that may be involved in a response.

Richards said an MCI event of some sort - which can include a multi-vehicle crash, hazardous material spill or stage collapse - happens somewhere in the country ever day.

"It's not a matter of whether it's going to happen," Richards said. "It's a matter of when it's going to happen."

During the training exercise, the responders were given assignments ranging from triaging, treating and transporting patients, to shutting down the hypothetical road the crash occurred on to speaking with the media. Participants were instructed to treat the scenario as if it were a real call for service.

"You can't get a resource until you ask for it and until you get it, you use what you have," said Sarah Radinsky, a retired EMS supervisor and Task Force 1 instructor. "Just like real life."

Once the incident was complete, the participants engaged in a "hot wash," where ever aspect of the scenario was reviewed and discussed.

Noting the strong working relationships between area first responders, Richards said Cedar Rapids is in a good position to respond to a potential multi casualty incident.

"Most communities don't have that," he said. "It's a real plus."

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