Flirting with disaster drills


The Mirror

Paramedic students and firefighters arrive in fire engines at a multiple vehicle crash scene.

One vehicle has a cracked front windshield and another’s passenger door is flung open. Some victims scream for help. However, the automobiles are smashed up against one another, blocking traffic and making access to the injured victims a challenge.

Working in small teams, the paramedic students and firefighters make their way from one vehicle to another. They mark numerous victims inside the vehicles with colored tape, indicating the severity of the victims’ injuries, then transport them on stretchers from the crash site to a designated treatment area.

Ambulances arrive and men in vests marked “treatment” and “transport” document each victim’s injuries before taking them to the aid vehicles.

This was the scene May 18 at the South King Fire and Rescue station 68 at 4501 312th Ave. S.W. in Federal Way. The mock crash was one in a series of drills that took place throughout the day.

Friday’s drills were meant to prepare paramedic students for real scenarios they will likely encounter.

Many of the actual emergencies paramedics see are multiple casualty incidents, said Tom Gudmestad, King County Medic One medical services officer. Examples of multiple casualty incidents include gun shootings, chemical outbreaks and car crashes.

Those playing the role of victims in the drills represented Bates Technical College, Federal Way’s Community Emergency Response Team and the occupation skill centers at local high schools, including those in Federal Way. Many of these people are interested in serving their community as a firefighter or paramedic, Gudmestad said.

Instead of attempting to act out injuries, victims carried cards that described their health status. Many injuries suffered in a multiple casualty incident cannot be reproduced, Gudmestad said. Victims, for the most part, remained motionless during the drills.

The day began with drills involving a single vehicle crash with a small number of victims, and escalated to a five-vehicle crash with more than 10 victims along with limited access. For the drills, vehicles were strategically placed using heavy equipment to best simulate a real crash.

The paramedic students practiced formulating treatment areas for victims, contacting hospital control at Harborview Medical Center and managing and transporting patients, said Kendra Kay, spokeswoman for South King Fire and Rescue.

Training day

The paramedic students hail from King and Snohomish counties and are currently participating in the Seattle Paramedic Training program, which all paramedic hopefuls in King County must complete before they can perform paramedic duties, Gudmestad said.

The paramedic students were hand-selected from their fire districts to attend the Seattle Paramedic Training program.

“The big objective is establishing communication, organization skills and prioritizing patient care,” said Bob Carlson, Seattle Paramedic Training coordinator.

After each drill, firefighters and paramedic students gathered with those who have more experience in the field, such as Gudmestad and South King Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Victor Pennington, to critique the drill.

They discussed how well the students and firefighters performed and pointed out areas for improvement.

The students all had prior experience, from serving as firefighters or Emergency Medical Technicians, in providing basic life support to victims, Carlson said. However, none had ever assumed a leadership role in assessing a crash scene and caring for the victims before Friday’s drills, he said.

Unlike EMTs, paramedics are able to provide advanced life support functions such as administering an IV or medications, Pennington said. This means they must know how to care for victims in the quickest and most efficient way possible without letting the stress of the situation interfere, Carlson said.

“The experience they got today is equivalent to years of street experience,” Pennington said.

The drills were one of the last steps the students were required to take before they can pass their training in July and become active paramedics in their hometowns. The drills were part of a 10-month, 3,200-hour training process, Carlson said.

Although a similar sequence of drills has taken place for more than 15 years, this was the first year it was held at South King Fire and Rescue station number 68 in Federal Way.

South King Fire and Rescue hopes to once again bring together firefighters, paramedic students and those interested in a career in fire services next year to participate in yet another day of mock crashes, Pennington said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: (253) 925-5565 or

Did you know?

Paramedics in King County help track the condition of the victims they treat by the use of colored tape. Red tape indicates a victim is seriously injured and needs immediate attention. Yellow tape means a victim is in serious, but not life-threatening condition. These victims will need medical attention. Green tape signifies the victim has not suffered any major or life-threatening injuries, but may be emotionally unstable. Black tape indicates a death.

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