Preparing for the worst

JEWELL – It was only a drill, but many people might not have realized that fact if they had driven down Main Street in Jewell Saturday morning. More than a dozen agencies, including fire departments, health care workers and law enforcement, had an opportunity practice preparedness skills during a mock disaster drill.

Fire fighters from the Hamilton County communities of Ellsworth, Jewell, Stratford, Kamrar, and Williams joined the Region V Haz Mat team, emergency medical personnel from Van Diest Medical Center, the Ellsworth-Jewell-Stanhope police, Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies and public health nurses gathered at the site of a mock three-vehicle accident. The scene was set in parking lot just across from the disaster command center at the Jewell Fire Station.

The drill began at about 9 a.m. with a call to 911. The scanner buzzed with a report of a two cars and a fuel tanker involved in an accident. Fuel was spilling from the overturned tanker and four victims were trapped inside the autos.

Fire trucks, tankers and ambulances began arriving soon after. Containing the fuel spill was of immediate concern, according to organizers. Firefighters donned their gear and breathing devices and moved into to douse the fuel with foam. The firefighters also closed off the open tanker port to stop further fuel from spilling.

Once the fuel was neutralized, other fire departments moved in with trucks and extrication equipment. They assessed the condition of the victims and began breaking open the doors to remove the patients. In the scenario, three of the victims were removed to be treated by waiting ambulance crews, while one victim died.

Jerry Eslick of Professional Rescue Innovations was the instructor leading the drill. He said developing a teamwork strategy in such situations was key to successful outcomes.

“We’ve got a lot of people all working at the same time. This is a big incident when you have four victims,” said Eslick. “They are learning some of things they need to improve on but they are also learning that they’re working together, and some things are going right.”

Eslick said the drills were very important to the small fire departments and other agencies.

“These kinds of incidents don’t happen all the time. And when they do, we get all of these people together like this. That’s why we have to work really well together,” he said. “Right now, they’re unified.”

Phil Queen, Hamilton County Emergency Management director, said this was the first large-scale drill held in several years.