First Responders Practice for the Unthinkable in Realistic Drill

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Dave Franzman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - No area is ever immune from an incident that involves mass casualties. But how do the first people to respond to a horrific school bus crash, or a shooter in a public place handle what many would consider the unthinkable?

A total of 27 Cedar Rapids police officers, firefighters, ambulance workers and other first responders are in a two-day class to brush up skills on how to respond to a scene that could include numbers of people seriously injured or even deaths. Much of the instruction is taking place in a typical classroom at the main Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station. But on Thursday afternoon, instructors added some colorful drama to the computer screens and textbooks.

Fifteen EMT and paramedic students from Kirkwood Community College took a break from their own studies to play the part of mass casualty victims. Instructors applied fake blood and even body parts to the outside of clothing that would simulate major internal injuries. The mock victims were scattered in various parts of the fire station main bay. At a signal, the police, fire and other first responders acted as if they had received a call to a real event and began searching for victims.

In this scenario, an elderly driver crashed a car into the side of a small building collapsing parts of the roof on victims. Fire equipment stood in for building wreckage and first responders wandered about the building searching our victims crying for help.

Ron Richards, a retired fire chief who now operates an emergency services training business, said it’s not hard to motivate professionals to treat realistic drills as the real thing. Many, even in a community the size of Cedar Rapids, may never confront a mass casualty event such as a school shooting in their careers. But there is always the possibility and first responders have to treat training as if it were the real thing and learn how to act.

Each responder circulated around the building accessing the injuries and “tagging” each victim with a color-code card that denoted the level of injury. That makes things easier for emergency responders arriving later who then know which victims to transport to a hospital first.

Greg Buelow, public information officer for the Cedar Rapids fire department, said all agencies participate in one or two large scale drills each year. The next one scheduled will be this spring at the airport.
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