“This is only a drill”: in case it ever happens for real
It was not quite Halloween, but you would never have known that at the Cape Cod Hospital Emergency Center Wednesday night, when 19 “patients” came crashing through the doors on stretchers and on foot.
Elaborately made up with eerily realistic injuries to simulate victims of a plane crash at Barnstable Municipal Airport, the mock patients were part of a once every three years drill conducted by the Hyannis airport. True-to-life facial burns, bodily wounds and broken limbs on “victims” coming in on fire department stretchers or walking in as dazed pedestrians made it hard to tell these were not real patients.
During the drill, Hyannis Fire Department set fire to several old cars to test the airport’s response plan. Along with the hospital, local police and fire, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, state Department of Transportation and county Emergency Management all played a role in the drill.
Volunteers from AmeriCorps Cape Cod and local high schools served as the “patients,” who were each assigned to a priority one, two or three category of injuries, one being the most serious. The mock patients were transported to the hospital at about 6 p.m. that night by various Cape fire departments. They were prepared by the medical teams in the field according to their priority.
The FAA requires the airport to stage the drill every three years, but Cape Cod Hospital participates because it gives the hospital a chance to test its own response to an unlikely, but possible mass casualty incident like a plane crash, said Michael Bachstein, executive director of facilities management at CCH.
“This was a perfect opportunity for us to work with local, county and state agencies during an extreme condition and gave us the ability to understand our full resources and test our new Emergency Room,” he said. “It allows us to understand the full stretch of our resources.”
Emergency Center staff conducted “table top” drills during the evening, and actually assigned patients to rooms and, on paper, moved other less severe existing patients out of rooms into other areas of the hospital to make way for more urgent cases.
CCH has participated in the airport drill in the past, but this was the first time it involved other departments in the hospital that would be affected in a mass casualty situation, such as radiology, laboratory and patient care, said Bachstein. During the drill Wednesday evening, ER staff actually simulated the transfer of a patient from fire department stretchers onto MRI tables in the new radiology area of the Emergency Center.
Waiting just inside the ER after her stint as a mock patient was over, Danielle Lacouture, 24, watched the dizzying array of activities going on around her. Her face was still charred and red with paint and charcoal, and large chunks of skin created from tissue, Vaseline, putty and paint hung from her cheeks. An AmeriCorps volunteer, Lacouture said she enjoyed her time as an actor.
“It was like in the movies and gave me a really good first-person perspective,” she said.