News

Mass-casualty drill trains firefighters to work together

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Forty-eight Federal Way firefighters tested their mass-casualty response skills during a drill near the old Longacres track in Renton Wednesday, joining with other firefighters from south King County.

Federal Way Fire Department has an agreement with the other departments to work together whenever something happens that’s too big for one department to handle alone. They all get together for drills periodically, rotating who orchestrates and pays for the event, to make sure everyone’s on the same page and knows how to create the proper chain of command, run triage and get patients out of the wreckage and into ambulances or airlifts.

Firefighters from different agencies get the chance to work under an unfamiliar commander during the drills, and with firefighters they don’t know but on whom they might some day rely to save people.

Learning to work together is the biggest training experience during the drills, Federal Way Fire spokeswoman Monica Colby said. “It’s to get everyone on the same page. We may never have met this person before, but we know they know what they’re doing,” she said. “There’s a lot of ways to do things. You might have done it differently, but it’ll come out OK. As long as it gets done, it doesn’t matter how you did it.”

According to the laminated card attached to my wrist last Wednesday, I was in a coma and had labored breathing. Still, I was breathing on my own and had a pulse, so that made me a Code Red patient. Had I not been breathing on my own, I would have been Code Black — someone who probably wasn’t going to make it.

I crawled partially under a school bus the Auburn Fire Department had secured for the drill. Two young volunteers sat in a “crashed” car pushed into the front of the bus. Two more volunteers sat in a crumpled car that had been pushed into the back end of the bus. Another person sat in blackberry bushes nearby, and more victims were on the bus. A mannequin was laid face-down on the hood of the head-on car.

Valley Communications, the regional 9-11 agency, dispatched firefighters to the scene. The first to arrive, they would be in charge of getting the entire scene under control, finding out how many patients they had and calling for help. Auburn’s training commander was timing them.

I hear from police and firefighters fairly frequently that people criticize them for not responding fast enough. I’m sure time seems to stand still while someone watches their house burn down or someone they love is badly injured, but I always thought it seemed unreasonable to expect the fire department or police to appear instantly.

It was interesting to be lying under the bus watching bunker boots run all over the place without, to my knowledge, doing anything. A firefighter ran past me onto the bus, then left the bus and disappeared. Someone finally asked me if I was OK (being in a “coma,” I couldn’t respond), so he checked my vitals and tied a red ribbon around my arm. Then he left. Even though it was only a drill, it still felt like I wasn’t going to get the help I needed to live.

Colby explained the complex operation that happens when that first engine arrives at the scene of a mass casualty incident

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