Lifesaver 2009 disaster drill tests emergency responder skills

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS  (WLOX) -  A railroad tanker car filled with anhydrous ammonia begins leaking near a busy intersection. Dozens of people are exposed to the hazardous fumes.

That was the scenario during a disaster drill Wednesday morning.

"Lifesaver 2009" is a multi-state, multi-agency drill that tests disaster readiness.

"How many are waiting on transport over there? You had 30 patients total?" yelled the Gulfport fireman, as he worked to coordinate emergency response at the disaster site.

Emergency responders worked quickly to prioritize the victims.

"Hey, this is triage one," said one EMT into his radio. "I have 13 green, two yellow patients. I still have four red."

"It's a simulated anhydrous ammonia release that we've had a number of patients, probably 35 or 40 patients affected by the release. That's respiratory problems, breathing problems," explained Gulfport fire chief, Pat Sullivan.

"Shortness of breath is all cleared up?  You're good also?" said the female EMT, as she spoke with the injured, who leaned against a brick wall.

Keesler students played  the role of patients in this drill.

"We're going to still keep you on the monitor and keep you on oxygen and keep monitoring you until we transport," said another emergency responder.

Memorial Hospital in Gulfport is among several South Mississippi medical facilities testings its readiness.

As first responders sort the injured, workers outside the ER quickly assembled the decontamination tent.

Disasters like chemical leaks are likely to produce a deluge of patients.

"A lot of patients in a short period of time that have to be decontaminated. It helps the hospital practice their decontamination procedures. It helps the emergency room practice their response to chemical injuries," said Chief Sullivan.

It also tests the hospital's disaster plan.

"The purpose of the drill, contrary to what people might believe, is to find out what our weaknesses are. To find out where we don't measure up so we can take action to be prepared in the event of a real disaster," said Larry Henderson, the vice president of administrative services at Memorial.

"You can never practice too much. And when you practice enough, you're going to get it right," said Chief Sullivan.

Lifesaver 2009 involved emergency responders and medical facilities in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

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