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Mass casualty drill tests station's response capabilities

By Cpl. Matthew Rainey | | February 9, 2006

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Firefighters and emergency medical personnel rushed to the aid of Marines who acted as victims during a mass casualty drill on station Feb. 9.

In order to host the 2006 Yuma Air Show, the station was required to test itself and local departments to see how prepared they are to work together in case of an emergency.

“We coordinated with all the mutual aid organizations, everyone who was going to be an evaluator for the exercise and all the individuals who were going to take part in the incident,” said exercise coordinator Warrant Officer Joe Szewczyk, Aircraft Rescue Firefighting, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. “Quite a few people come together to support when something like this happens.

“This is basically a training evaluation to see how all the organizations could come onto the base in a mutual aid situation and assist us,” Szewczyk explained. “This drill ensures that if there is an actual incident during the air show and we have a mass casualty situation on the air station, the emergency response runs smoothly and that all our organizations can communicate together. It’s a prerequisite for the air station (in order) to host the air show.”

A variety of departments participated in the drill, increasing familiarity between all the units involved.

“We had the Yuma Fire Department, Rural Metro Fire Department, the Somerton Fire Department, Provost Marshal’s Officer, ARFF and (the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Fire Department) respond to the incident out here,” said David Sears, emergency medical services incident commander.

Of all the people involved, the Marines of ARFF were the first on the scene.

“Our response time to the accident was good,” said Szewczyk. “I may be a little biased with the crash crew guys, but our response time on the air field is really quick. We can be anywhere on the air field in two minutes and that’s about a minute faster than we are supposed to be.”

The Marines at ARFF know that their quickness is due to a lot of practice in a time-tested system that works.

“We have our response down to a system. Everyone is cool and calm because the more you rush and freak out the longer it tends to take,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Charles, ARFF specialist. “We jumped in our truck and we got here as fast as we could. The crew chief takes care of where we’re going, so we just get geared up as fast as we can. The crew chief lets us know what kind of (aircraft) we are going out to and what we can prepare for.”

Once responders began to arrive at the scene, they started to assess the damage.

“The scene didn’t look that bad when we arrived,” explained the Buffalo, N.Y., native. “I could see everything from where I was at on the turret (on top of the fire truck). I guess I was expecting more bodies.”

With many having already responded to one of the station’s past mass casualty drills, some said this year’s drill was much more manageable.

“Last year, we didn’t do so great because so many things went wrong within the scenario that it was hard for us to deal with everything,” said Sears. “I think we did exceptionally well this year though.”

Many pointed to a single piece of gear the station purchased this year as a key to the drill’s success.

Staff Sgt. Timothy Hall, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the incident command center and native of Oshkosh, Wis., said that the Provost Marshal’s Office mobile command post was used as a valuable single point where emergency responders from outside the station could join emergency responders from within the station to create a more efficient mode of communication.

Those working inside the mobile command post had similar reviews.

“(The mobile command post) was a big help because it eliminated so many of the outside noises that can make communication difficult,” said Sears. “The guys in the incident command did a good job making sure that communication was solid.”

Overall, those responding to the incident meshed well with each other.

“I thought the civilians and the military worked fairly well together today,” said Sears. “We usually do because we work together so often anyway.”

Evaluators were able to see the good and the bad as they looked over the responders from their neutral positions on the flight line.

“They do what they do, and do a very good job of it,” said Chuck Beasley, exercise evaluator and training officer for Rural Metro Fire Department. “As with any drill though, we’re looking for things that we always can make improvements on. That’s the purpose of the drill, to make sure the agencies can work together.”

There is at least obstacle that Marines and sailors will need to overcome in the event of a mass casualty incident.

“I think if this was a real incident, we would be pulling people off the street because we are running on minimum manpower. All the same, I saw a lot of people working together as a team to make sure everyone received the medical attention they needed,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Bramlette, Branch Medical Clinic corpsman from Santa Maria, Calif. “I think these drills are good for pointing out the areas where we need improvement as a unit.”
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