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11/13/2013 2:00:00 PM
Lincoln County Disaster Drill Prepares Responders

By Kathy Onorato

A collision involving a school bus and oil truck will always get the attention of emergency response teams and efforts were made on Nov. 7 to make sure emergency personnel are well-trained in handling such a disaster. This time the call to Route 27 in Wiscasset was only a test, as emergency personnel throughout Lincoln County took part in a mock disaster drill.

"The best training is hands-on learning," said Ken Desmond, Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency's training and operations officer. "We always think it's never going to happen here."

The scenario for this drill was set during a frigid Maine night, just after a bad ice storm left many in the county without power for many days. A bus transporting nearly 17 Lincoln County residents to the Wiscasset Community Center for shelter was struck by a truck carrying fuel.

A hazardous materials team prepares
A hazardous materials team prepares "victim" Layne Kaler for the decontamination process. (Kathy Onorato photo)

The initial test page from the Lincoln County Communications Center reported a bus rollover, with lots of injuries and also reported an oil truck was involved.

Wiscasset emergency personnel arrived first on the staged accident scene to find a bus on its side with several people seriously injured. To complicate the scene the oil struck had leaked large amounts of fuel which contaminated the area and victims.

As is the case in real emergencies if extra help is needed crews were paged out as needed. Within a very short time crews from all over Lincoln County were paged to the mock disaster.

For this drill, Lincoln County's emergency crews were waiting at the Communications Center in Wiscasset to be paged out and the response time was obviously much quicker than it would be in a real emergency.

Triage began immediately. At the scene were deceased victims, broken legs, broken arms, severe lacerations, people who were ejected from the bus and on the ground; victims pinned inside the bus. With the weather for the night of the accident being extreme cold and with several inches of snow on the ground precautions were needed for keeping the victims warm and dry.

Lincoln County firefighters remove passengers from the bus on its side. (Kathy Onorato photo) Lincoln County firefighters remove passengers from the bus on its side. (Kathy Onorato photo)

Several victims were contaminated with fuel from the truck and had to go through the decontamination tent before they were transported to the hospital.

According to Ken Desmond, Lincoln County EMA training and operations officer, in real lift situations contaminated victims are 95 per cent clean before they are transported. "We can't put dirty people in our ambulances because they contaminate the ambulance and then we can't use it," Desmond said. "We clean them, wrap them up and then we send them," he said.

Upon arrival at the hospital contaminated victims usually get a second treatment before entering the emergency room, Desmond said.

Lincoln County Commissioner William Blodgett who attended the this drill and others as an observer, said he enjoys seeing all trained agencies working together. "I hope we never have to use it, but its good to be prepared," he said.

Wiscasset Selectman Ed Polewarczyk also watched the exercise from Route 27 and thought the event was an incredible learning experience.

"It was very realistic and well done," said Polewarczyk.

"For the most part I was pleased with the way things went, but there is always room for improvement" Lincoln County EMA Director Tod Hartug said.

Hartung said will take 30 to 45 days for him to get an after action report which will be compiled by information gathered by evaluators at the drill site. The report will identify specific details on what went well and where improvements could be made. The evaluating team was made up of individuals with command experience from departments not involved in the exercise, Hartung said.

"This way there are no personal relationships," Hartung said.

With various degrees of training and experience coming together, Hartung said, personalities likely surfaced. "We stressed all along this was going to be a no fault experience and we wanted it to be a learning environment," he said.

Hartung said the biggest issue at the scene was the traffic on Route 27. With several emergency vehicles lined up on the shoulder of the southbound lane, it became necessary to close down one lane for about an hour. "We planned the exercise in the evening when we felt the bulk of the traffic would be diminished," he said.

This type of training takes a lot of preparation and planning Hartung says, but the entire county benefits from the learning experience this type of training offers.

"It was well worth the effort," Hartung said.

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