Island EMS drill for mass casualty incident

This was only a drill. If this were a real emergency, you would have been instructed to… be grateful that the Island’s first responders reacted so well to a simulated three-car crash, and identified parts of their response that need improvement.

Because if it ever happens for real, more than 80 firefighters, emergency medical technicians, doctors, nurses, police officers, and Medflight pilots will have a better idea of how to save your life.

When the alarm went out at 9:30 am Sunday morning, everyone who responded knew it was a drill. Though it took months to plan, the nature of the simulated emergency was known only to Oak Bluffs ambulance chief John Rose, and a very few other people.

“People had no idea what they were walking into,” Chief Rose said. “The object of the drill was to tax the resources of the Island’s emergency response, and have all the Island agencies work together as one group, as one team, to achieve the goal.”

What emergency responders found when they arrived at Sanderson Road behind the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, was a very realistic simulation of a multiple car accident with more than a dozen injured people, right down to the leftover supermarket bones imitating broken limbs, pork sausage simulating intestines, and lots of fake blood.

The drill simulated a taxi van with 10 passengers, colliding with a car carrying five passengers, and another vehicle carrying five passengers that swerved to avoid the crash and hit a tree. There was an additional complication of chemical exposure when bags of caustic lime burst and burned passengers. There was a head-injury victim who wandered confused into the state forest.

Boston Medflight was staged and ready to airlift the victims, but just as in real life, foggy weather grounded the aircraft. As an alternative, emergency personnel activated a Cape Cod-based emergency task force, which began moving ambulances and personnel to Woods Hole to handle transport to mainland hospitals.

Chief Rose said most things went right. “The agencies working together went very well,” he said. “EMS recognizing the injuries went really well. Extricating the vehicles, the two rescue teams working together went very smooth.”

But the object of the drill is as much to find out what goes wrong, as what goes right, so emergency response planners can work on deficiencies.

“With multiple agencies working on the same channels, you had radio difficulties,” Chief Rose said. “There was some confusion on the number of patients in the beginning, which always happens. [In] the initial triage, there were only four priority-one patients. We actually transported seven priority-ones. We had to do a search and rescue. It took us quite a while.”

Mr. Rose said EMTs from the three down-Island ambulance departments, as well as the Tri-town ambulance that serves up-Island communities, participated in the drill. There were 52 EMTs in all, working with 30 Island firefighters, and many others who acted as victims or served in support roles.

“When a big incident happens, we call on each other for help,” Mr. Rose said. “We work together. That went really well.

Correction, May26:

The spelling Robyn Bollin and Alex Schaeffer was corrected in the online edition of this story.