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Photo by Mass Communications 1st Class Gino A. Flores

Mass casualty drill tests emergency responders’ skills and techniques

13 Sep 2011 | Petty Officer 1st Class Gino Flores

On Aug. 24 at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, a simulated blast shattered the morning silence and rapid response emergency teams across the base sprang into action to test their responsiveness with a casualty drill.

The first responders being tested were part of various military and civilian contractor outfits on base responsible for dealing with various crises.

The drill started with a simulated insurgent indirect fire attack on the base, a scenario organizers deemed a plausible event given enemy tactics in Afghanistan, said 1st Lt. Jared Gastrock, a drill coordinator and observer for the exercise. The simulated attack resulted in numerous casualties and fires for responders to deal with.

Fire trucks and ambulances raced to the scene soon after the base alert sounded and the location of the developing crisis was established.

The crackling of flames and burning wood were heard and smelled amid a haze of smoke blanketing the scene of the drill. Casualty victims in the area of the attack, role-played by Marines, peppered the air with the agonizing sounds of the injured.

The Camp Leatherneck Fire Department, Combined Aid Station, and Provost Marshall’s Office confronted the danger with an organized plan of attack.

First, Military Police with Task Force Belleau Wood arrived on scene to assess the situation. They searched for and identified casualties. The MPs also monitored the grounds for additional threats as they directed and controlled access to the scene. Mock reporters and spectators were cordoned off to a designated control point near the scene to prevent interference with rescue operations.

Emergency lights and sirens filled the air as fire trucks and ambulances arrived on scene. The MPs, medics, hospital corpsmen and fire fighters coordinated to tend to the injured and addressed the ongoing threats of additional explosives and fire hazards still present in the area.

Scene safety was one of the top concerns of Seaman Christopher Rinker, a hospital corpsman and member of the on-scene triage team.

“Any additional threats like improvised explosive devices can harm the emergency team’s success in responding to a casualty,” said Rinkers.

Fire department medics and hospital corpsmen with the CAS applied life-saving procedures as they came upon victims with life-threatening injuries. The casualties were quickly removed from the hazardous zone, sorted and separated based on the degree of injury before being staged in a designated triage zone. The paramedics and hospital corpsmen gathered the victims while they monitored and stabilized the injured. They then loaded the ambulances with the casualties and evacuated them to the emergency trauma center on base.

Meanwhile, firefighters on scene attacked multiple fires until all the flames were extinguished.

Marines portraying casualties wore detailed moulages and special effects makeup, bringing injuries such as face lacerations, compound fractures, severed body parts, and punctured wounds to life. These injuries tested the emergency team’s skill proficiency in applying life saving procedures and stabilizing the victims prior to evacuation, said Gastrock.

As the casualty drill concluded, leaders of the emergency teams on scene gathered to review the first responder’s performance and note areas of improvement.

The seamless combined efforts of multiple emergency teams that responded to the drill led to the successful outcome of the drill, said Gastrock.

“We are now ready for a more complex and realistic mass casualty drill,” he explained.