Getting ready for the worst

Drill gives area agencies a chance to test their skills

Les Hampton lay quiet, slumped at the front of a school bus tipped on its side full of passengers in Saturday's mass casualty drill.

Of the 20-plus mock victims, the county commissioner was chosen as the day's lone fatality.

"I may need a cigarette when I get out of here," quipped Hampton, who was supposed to be unconscious with a fake metal rod impaled in his skull complete with fake blood as smoke swirled through the stripped-down bus, causing a few coughing fits among volunteer victims.

Others like Gloria Ormsbee -- with her own painted wounds and shredded clothes -- were in much better shape. Participants were assigned various degrees of injury explained on sheets of paper, which crews responding to the scene on Moffat County Road 64 North had to assess and prioritize for emergency transport.

"I'm supposed to be disoriented," said Ormsbee, a dispatcher with the Artesia Fire Department, who wandered around the sometimes-controlled chaos.

Ormsbee and others from the Dinosaur department had traveled to Craig for one-day meetings for the last nine months of planning that led up to Saturday's drill, which involved all of Moffat County's response agencies and some that were out of state.

Lessons learned would be important for the day when such an accident was not a drill, she said.

"We've got buses like this coming through Dinosaur all the time," Orsmbee said.

Victims were moved to the windy road west of Craig about a half-hour before the call went out at 9:41 a.m. -- "...bus on its side.... this is only an exercise."

The numerous police, fire and ambulance crews responding to the scene were instructed to approach deliberately -- running no lights and sirens.

"We want people to take it slow and think things through," said Clyde Anderson, Moffat County emergency manager. "Procedure is more important and getting it done right."

That, regardless whether the scripted emergency stayed on plan. As emergency crews flooded the scene shouting commands and tending to victims, a real-life emergency on state Highway 13 pulled Craig EMS' first ambulance on-scene away from the drill.

"The second crew wasn't quite ready, but they're picking it up now," said Dr. Jon Ossen, an advisor with The Memorial Hospital EMS and an observer Saturday.

"Got to take care of the real ones first."

Craig fire crews, meanwhile, slashed a gaping hole into the side of the bus, which was donated by the Moffat County School District for the drill. Five individuals who were supposed to be seriously injured needed extraction from the vehicle. Some screamed. Others shrieked and laughed.

Hampton, the fatally injured bus driver, said nothing while waiting for the coroner.

"Help..."

"I need some Novocaine..."

About 100 feet east on the road, Craig Fire Chief Roy Mason had communications running as part of a shared incident command along with the sheriff's department, and Craig EMS.

Anderson announced his presence with a mock salute for Mason.

"Reporting for duty as ordered," he said.

Amid the chatter, officials kept tallies of the dead and divided up degrees of injury among the victims. Decisions needed to be made: whose job is it to call the coroner? Who would notify the school district?

Organizers said familiarizing the numerous agencies with each other was just part of the day's goal.

"If you're working on a trained response, you're likely to do a better job when it's real," Ossen said.

Participants gathered later Saturday to assess the drill over lunch.

Reviews were largely positive, although several areas were noted for improvement.

"To have that many patients and have them transported to the hospital within an hour is very good," said Karen Burley, with Maybell EMS.

Some cited a lack of communication between victims and fire crews outside the bus, while a radio frequency between the scene and dispatchers sometimes confused drill-related messages with real ones.

All areas officials hope to improve in next year's drill in Maybell, said Burley, who indicated the performance would continue to be evaluated.

Hampton's only complaint was the thick smoke.

"I took a nice nap," he said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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