The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

Dayton students simulate injuries for Friday's multi-agency practice drill


October 31, 2019

Beka Compton

EMT/Firefighter Jasmine Helm and Columbia County Sheriff Joe Helm help guide a victim to the back of an ambulance during the multi-agency chemical explosion drill last Friday at the Dayton High School Agriculture Building. All explosions and injuries were simulated.

DAYTON-Dayton General Hospital partnered with the Dayton High School, the Columbia County Dispatch Center, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, Columbia County Public Health, Columbia County Fire District 3, and the Waitsburg Clinic for a multi-agency response  drill, involving students "injured" by a simulated chemical explosion in Kristina Kneble's Agriculture Science class, last Friday. No students were injured during the drill.

The "chemical explosion" happened when a faulty welding tank was accidentally used. The agriculture building at Dayton High School was surrounded by a fake hazardous haze, and students were scattered around the floor with various "injuries." It was a sobering view.

The students who participated in the drill sustained both minor and major trauma. Moulage chemical burns, open fractures and major bruising were just some of the injuries waiting for the responders. "Moulage" is the special effects makeup used to create realistic injuries. These fake injuries provide responders the opportunity to identify and treat serious wounds, and create room to be taught new care techniques. 

Sheriff Joe Helm and the Columbia County Deputies were first on scene, and immediately set up roadblocks, and secured the scene. The deputies did not allow anyone in or out of the scene until cleared to do so. Columbia County Fire District 3 was just minutes behind with ambulances, fire trucks, and crews. 

Sheriff Helm and Fire Chief Jeromy Phinney worked quickly and calmly to stage fire trucks and ambulances, creating an efficient route for firefighters and EMTs to work. Once the scene was determined safe, fire crews began extracting students from the scene, doing a quick triage before handing them off to the EMTs, who stabilized them for transportation. The firefighters' responsibilities included removing heavy debris off of the "injured" students, obtaining a brief overview of each student's injuries, and fitting them with the proper stabilizing equipment. In this scenario, students that were unable to walk were carried out on a backboard or in a fireman's chair carry. Students that were able to walk were fitted with a cervical collar (c-collar) and guided out. Sheriff Helm and his available deputies jumped in to help assess the victims as they arrived.

"I need a blanket! This patient is getting cold!" was one of the clear, calm requests made by EMTs during the triage process. Firefighters who were moving victims from the explosion site to the staging area took a quick second to sort victims and communicate the level of care each individual would need. In this situation, there were three levels of injuries: Students determined a 'green tag' were the ones with the least-serious injuries and required minimal care. The students with a 'yellow tag' sustained injuries that required attention, but they weren't life threatening. 'Red-tagged' students required immediate attention, and had "sustained" serious injuries.

They were transported by ambulance to the Dayton General Hospital Emergency Department, where they were met by medical professionals. All victims of the chemical explosion were sent through a decontamination tent, and then sent to the appropriate hospital staff depending on the extent of their injuries. In the event of a real explosion, all at the scene would have to be decontaminated. The hospital staff were quick to stop people walking up to the scene, and redirected them to a safe area. In the event of a catastrophe that this drill simulated, hospital staff would direct the public to the Administration Building.

 Inside the hospital cafeteria, anxious parents waited to see if their child was unloaded from the ambulances. Stephanie Carpenter, RN, was working back and forth between the staged parents and the ER, focusing on reuniting students and parents for both comfort and identification purposes. While this may seem like an unnecessary part of the drill, this offered hospital staff a chance to 'calm' upset parents, and opened the door to work on ways to break tough news to the injured student's loved ones, and help parents/caregivers understand the situation. This is a part of hospital culture that is often overlooked. All parents involved in the drill were volunteers and aware that this was simulated.

"Running a drill of this caliber, on a Friday morning, can be tough. We are a volunteer department, and it's hard for people to leave their day job," Columbia County Fire District 3 Chief Jeromy Phinney said. "If this were a real incident, we would have 20 or more people here within minutes." Overall, Chief Phinney was happy with the response. All responders worked calmly and professionally, despite the very realistic acting from the volunteer victims.

Garfield Co. EMS also participated in the drill.  Their patients were involved in a car accident and had to be transported to the Waitsburg Clinic. The car wreck simulation happened during the "chemical explosion," and Columbia County was unable to respond. The 'victims' were stabilized at the Waitsburg Clinic, while they waited for an ambulance coming from Walla Walla. Staff at the Waitsburg Clinic were told that the nearest ambulance was at least an hour away.

The drill lasted from 9:00 a.m. until about 10:30 a.m.


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