Mass casualty drill tests Dartmouth EMS squad

by Roshan Dutta | 4/13/14 6:24pm

Some students may have been startled on Saturday as they came across a number of seemingly injured and unconscious people surrounded by first responders, splashed with fake blood and bearing fictional injuries. The incident they witnessed was a simulated mass casualty drill designed to test and improve response to similar incidents, the signature event of the fifth annual Northern New England Collegiate EMS Conference.

Around 100 undergraduates attended the conference, run by the student-run Dartmouth Emergency Medical Services, said Judy Li ’15, the group’s operations officer and organizer of last year’s conference. Many attendees came from regional colleges, including Colby College, Tufts University, the University of Vermont, Boston University, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Northeastern University.

Li said the conference helped EMS squads from different institutions exchange best practices.

The mass casualty training event, she said, was the first time that many of the squads, Dartmouth EMS included, participated in such a simulation, due to the large number of people required. Though the squad completes numerous online training simulations, the physical drill allows members to hone different skills, she said.

This year, Dan Pham ’16 and Courtney Hargreaves ’16 organized the conference. Li said the group often chooses sophomores as conference coordinators to expose younger members to leadership opportunities.

Dartmouth EMS executive director Ethan Thomas ’14 said in an email that the drill simulated the results of a motor vehicle driving into a crowd and colliding with a telephone pole, which then fell onto another group of people. He said that the responding crews used the incident command system, a standard approach for emergency situations, to manage the scenario.

Thomas said that the squads sought to improve their coordination, communication and medical treatment. He said he believes that the performance was successful, and that the organization is capable of handling a similar real-life situation.

The mass casualty simulation required a number of student volunteers to imitate injury victims, anxious onlookers or patients dead on arrival, Thomas said, which helped EMS squads to practice. Both injured parties and onlookers followed scripts mirroring realistic outcomes of a major disaster.

“Other patients had scripts for when their condition was to change and under which circumstances,” Thomas said in the email. “For instance, one patient might be bleeding severely and be scripted to go into cardiac arrest if the bleeding is not stopped within a certain time frame.”

To minimize costs, everyday items were used to simulate injuries, Pham said in an email. The appearance of skin damage, for instance, was created with torn toilet paper and vaseline.

Volunteer Gabby Josebachvili ’15, who pretended to be an injured victim, said in an email that she was asked to write a report after the drill with information that included the response time and the treatment she received.

EMS members “had to do all the basic steps, such as finding a pulse, trying to identify any wounds and so on,” making the simulation as close to a real emergency response as possible, she said.

Thomas said he found it encouraging that EMS squads from around a dozen institutions came to the conference and participated in the simulation. The conference has grown each year, Li said, with Saturday’s attendance of around 100 marking an increase from last year’s 80 participants.

Hargreaves did not respond to requests for comment.

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