MISCOUCHE –The call went out shortly after 11:00 a.m. that the Miscouche Rec Centre had collapsed upon a meeting, triggering an emergency response to a mass casualty incident Saturday morning that involved three fire departments, the R.C.M.P. and Island EMS ambulance transport.
It was an exercise that did exactly what it was planned to do.
"Anytime we have an event like this, it is always a learning experience," credited Miscouche fire chief Jason Woodbury.
The emergency personnel involved learned the strengths and weaknesses in their roles and how inter-agency cooperation could be improved upon.
“It’s always an organized chaos, especially with a volunteer agency in a mass casualty event,” he outlined.
“Our firefighters are volunteers and are responding from home or different events, so you don’t really have a good sense of who is responding until you arrive on scene.
“Then you have that lapse of five to 10 minutes when everyone has congregated on scene and you look at what additional resources are required,” he explained.
Woodbury’s job in command is to delegate task that are taking place on scene, and that works best with seven to eight people. The responsibility for details then branches out to the officers in charge of individual areas of the scene, such as overall safety, public information which is typically the police, emergency medical services command, the extrication officer responsible for getting victims out safely, triage officer for immediate assessment of injuries, treatment officer for secondary care of patients, transportation officer to efficiently move patients to more health care facilities, and a staging officer to distribute resources.
“I’m extremely satisfied with the way it went,” Woodbury reiterated after the debrief following the exercise.
“As we heard, the communications is a key part. It’s extremely important for the emergency agencies on P.E.I. to be able to have the capabilities to communicate with each other directly, and have the same frequencies,” he said, as it would go a long way to eliminate initial chaos on scene.
“I am very impressed by the way the event unfolded, having these multiple agencies responding and working together is a huge accomplishment, in my mind, for emergency services on P.E.I.
“With every training exercise we provide there is always something that you are going to learn. I think they advanced their skills, but also took a lot away from this exercise as well.”
Observers and a photographer were on scene to monitor the actions and outcomes.
Jason DeBay took notes to see what improvements might be made.
“There were a few hiccoughs, but that is normal in an incident like this. Just some small things they could work on,” he generalized.
“Everything went right: the exercise was a success. Everybody walked away learning something, and I guess that is what you want to do,” he concluded.
Island EMS participant Katrina Doucette acted as Treatment Officer, overseeing four stations for various levels of injuries initially assessed in triage outside the damaged building.
She acknowledged that two “deaths” were among the 22 victims, but recognized it as part of the confusion that accompanies a mass casualty event.
“I know some firefighters were taking patients directly from triage to the ambulance; somebody needs to communicate with (the Treatment Officer) to (maintain awareness of numbers),” so as not to miss critical patients.
“I think it went very well and was a valuable learning experience,” she stated.
Jagger Doucette, a firefighter directed to recover the first victim to escape the building, who ran across the school grounds trying to get home in a panic, is in his first year with the Miscouche Fire Department. He knew his corralling of the victim didn’t go as smoothly as it should have.
He feels he learned a lot from the exercise, his role, and his lack of experience. He is trained in basic first aid, but categorized his skills, at the moment, as doing what he is told and going with gut instinct, then hoping for the best.
Victim Kyle Gill was “impaled” by a piece of vinyl siding. He was one of the last ones recovered, but was yelling constantly and considered he was losing the most blood.
Once in triage, three backboards were brought to his side then given to other patients deemed more needy. By the time the fourth arrived, it was too late but he still considered the exercise a success.
“(This exercise) is very important. It’s great so they can train, they know what to do, they know their errors, they know what they did good,” he listed.
“Even though they lost me. They can’t be heroes for everyone,” he realized.