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Firefighters sharpen skills during mass casualty exercise

By Staff | Jul 21, 2010

TIFFANY REPECKI Cape Coral firefighters remove the “injured” — adult dummies — from a school bus during a mock mass causality incident Wednesday. The incident consisted of fire units responding to a LeeTran bus and school bus collision.

The Cape Coral Fire Department spent the week training in mass causality incidents to refresh firefighters’ knowledge of protocol and sharpen their skills.
About 150 firefighters will undergo the training, which continues next week at Fire Station No. 8, located at 707 S.W. First St. The mock mass causality incident, or MCI, involves a LeeTran bus and Lee County school bus colliding.
“There’s a lot of people on a bus so there’s lots of potential for injury,” Public Education Specialist Dave Webster of the Cape department said.
The goal of the training is for firefighters to practice handling a large number of people as quickly as possible. According to Battalion Chief John Spicuzza, the training officer, an MCI is an event that is overwhelming for the traditional first responders.
“It’s just a matter of more patients than you can handle immediately,” he said.
Bus accidents and roll-overs, mass biohazard situations and even large fires can involve the triage and treatment of multiple people, which would classify them as MCIs. Triage is when people are categorized on the severity of their injuries using colored ribbon — green, yellow, red or black.
According to officials, the last MCI in the Cape took place more than a year ago and involved a vehicle and a school bus colliding.
“They don’t happen often enough to where it’s routine,” Spicuzza said.
On Wednesday, the firefighters had to work with mock “patients,” including teddy bears, inflatable adults and child-like dummies, as well as volunteers who attempted to wander away from the scene and could be uncooperative.
“It gives them more of a real-life scenario than working with teddy bears,” Beth Martindale, the CERT emergency management volunteer coordinator, said.
The “live” group of volunteers was made of CERT volunteers, students and others. Each “patient” had to be assessed and triaged, treated and then transported.
“It’s a refresher. It’s practice,” Webster said.
Spicuzza pointed out during the classroom portion of the training that an important part of a successful MCI is the physical organization and staging of personnel and equipment. Another is tracking the patients, especially if a school bus or children are involved.
“It’s all about organization and keeping it clean early, so it stays that way,” he said.
Typically, MCIs are multi-agency events, and the Cape department partners with other agencies to take part in mock group drills. According to Spicuzza, the last time the Cape agency participated in a countywide one was in 2009.
“It’s all about cooperating with the other agencies,” he said. “So we’re all on the same page, doing the same thing.”
For example, the Cape Police Department can offer equipment, the School District can provide buses to transport a large number of people from the scene and LeeTran can supply tits air-conditioned buses to offer comfort to the wounded or to exhausted first responders.
Paramedics with Lee County EMS participated in Wednesday’s training by “treating” the “patients” before they were transported to the hospitals.
“It’s a multi-agency event,” Webster said of an MCI.
Spicuzza added that the training fosters new ideas and ways to work faster during an incident, meaning firefighters can meet their goal more effectively.
“We’ve got a lot of great stuff so far,” he said Wednesday.