Weekend training in January at the Prince William Public Safety Training Academy has been intensive for members of the Department of Fire and Rescue. This month, every firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician in the department will participate in Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) exercises. Role players with simulated injuries that range from gunshot wounds to minor cuts and scrapes test the skills of everyone from technicians to battalion chiefs.
The scenario in the MCI exercise has firefighters and emergency medical technicians responding to a simulated shooting at a daycare center. Role players, dressed with theatrical make up to simulate the injuries, cry, scream, moan, fade in and out of consciousness and worry about other “victims” of the shooting spree.
Prince William Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Kim Pumphrey said the exercises, with 40 to 45 fire and rescue personnel and approximately 25 role players in each of the one-day sessions, are designed to tax skills while encouraging cooperation and teamwork. “We do have incidents where there are 10-15 patients involved in multiple vehicle crashes, and that’s technically an MCI. However, a lot of times those incidents don’t overburden what units we have available. Typically, an MCI is going to expand that.”
During the exercise, fire and rescue personnel respond to the scene – as they would at any live situation – and perform triage, administer treatment and transport patients as required by the extent of the injuries they find. Area hospital centers designate personnel to play along in the exercise and take the emergency calls from the people on the scene.
“They are participating with us. They know an estimated time when we’ll be calling in. Whoever’s on the other end says ‘Standby, I’ll give you a call right back,’ and then they would do just as they would in an MCI situation. They are actually playing into our drill with us.”
Pumphrey said the MCI exercises are designed to follow the regional guidelines of the NOVA Operations Manual. The manual sets out procedures for dealing with scenarios ranging from single family home fires to the more intensive MCIs. “We have been the first county to actually take this manual and break it down into sections and deliver training to our personnel and prepare our personnel with a large-scale training.”
Battalion Chief John Shifflett said the exercise helps shed light on all aspects of an emergency. “I’ve run some multi-alarm structure fires, but when you’re dealing with patients it’s another ball game. It’s more resource intensive as far as transport units and the like and as far as the number of people you need.”
Lt. Tom Arnoto said he thought the training would pay off in case of an emergency. “We’re getting a lot of good information. It’s a new procedure that’s going into effect for Northern Virginia and this is getting us on board. It’s going to give us a strong foundation on understanding new policies and procedures, and hopefully, provide better care for the citizens of Prince William County.”
Fire and Rescue Technician I Stephanie Butler said she found the training useful. “I think that we’re all going to be more prepared if something does happen. It’s training that you can’t get all the time and I’m really thankful that we can get it now.”
Pumphrey said an MCI takes people past what they might learn from classroom instruction or reading. “What this does is reinforce what they’ve already learned, and it gives them additional information they may not have had previously. It’s really hitting home the importance of different aspects of the MCI, the command and control structure of the MCI, so that everyone is accounted for and everyone is treated appropriately. This training helps our personnel to be all on the same page with each other.”