Air Guard medics, firefighters hold joint training
By Staff Sgt Sherree Grebenstein, 167th Airlift Wing
/ Published September 17, 2009
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- "No pulse! Ejected through the windshield."
That was the assessment given of one crash victim to medics and firefighters when they arrived on the scene of a two-vehicle "accident" during Saturday's September drill at the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg.
Fortunately no one breathing was actually injured in the joint training exercise which was designed to team up medics from the 167th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron with base firefighters who used the Jaws of Life to extricate some of the five "victims" from the wreckage.
Robert A. Shackelford, a paramedic supervising instructor with West Virginia Public Service Training RESA VIII, said the T-bone collision scenario involving a gold Geo Prizm and a maroon Ford Crown Victoria provided excellent training to test the lifesaving skills of both the Wing's medics and firemen. Shackelford, who was assigned with the unit's AES for seven years as a medic, is contracted to train Airmen on emergency medical services.
"We are trying to relate to a real world exercise," Shackelford said. "We are trying to simulate what they can expect when they get deployed."
And although those assigned to the aeromedical evacuation squadron normally have their mettle tested in flight when treating the wounded, medics said the crash scenario tested their lifesaving skills which they must know whether they are airborne or have their feet firmly planted on the ground.
Of the approximately 15 Air Force medics participating in the training exercise, about a quarter of them were facing the training scenario for the first time, Shackelford said.
"We teamed them up with the more experienced (Airmen)," he noted.
Tech Sgt. Mary Ann Smith watched as the medics - often having to make quick, tough decisions - rendered first aid to the victims during the mass casualty exercise.
"You have to look at who can be treated with the limited resources available," said Smith, who also serves as a medic with the aeromedical evacuation squadron.
Each Airmen appeared to know that the role he or she played as a first responder was crucial.
And in some cases, made the difference between life and death.
Tech Sgt. Will Stuller, a medic with the 167th Airlift Wing's Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, grabbed the right front passenger door of the Geo Prizm as firefighters began to strip down the vehicle in order to extricate the dummy mannequin which doubled as a victim.
Stuller, who volunteers as an emergency medical technician and a firefighter with the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Department, donned his heavy firefighting outfit which made the scenario even more realistic for him.
"I think it's a good training experience to be out of the classroom," Stuller said.
"I'd like our people to be as well-rounded as possible," said Stuller, who helped coordinate the joint exercise between the air base's medics and firefighters. He said incorporating other elements on base such as the fire department provides for more realistic training.
Stuller said the joint training exercise was a win-win situation with everyone walking away better focused on how their individual skills as Airmen play a critical part in saving a life that is on the line.
"Yank them and go!" Shackelford shouts to the scene's first responders.
He points out that time is of the essence in an emergency such as this.
Shackelford said there is the "Golden Hour" and the "Platinum 10 Minutes" when treating a casualty. Within an hour the patient - if he or she survives the impact of an accident - needs to be in surgery. The "Platinum 10 Minutes" refers to the crucial time given to render immediate first aid to keep a person alive.
Standing by in case a real emergency occurred during the training exercise, Mike Zanotti, a paramedic with the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority, noted the scene was realistic enough that it could unfortunately play out on any roadway.
"This is what you see at three in the morning in the rain," said Zanotti, who was on standby with fellow EMT Chris Finchem.
Asked if there was anything that might make the scenario more authentic, Zanotti noted: "The scene is not complete. There are no helicopters."
As medics treated a crash victim ejected from one of the cars who would later be pronounced dead at the scene, firefighters worked feverishly to extricate a front seat passenger and back seat passenger trapped in the Geo Prizm.
Firefighters quickly dismantled the top and sides of the car in order for medics to be able to administer lifesaving skills.
"They could take the entire car down to the chassis," Zanotti said, adding that he has seen a car stripped to its lug nuts.
"A lot of people are still walking around because of the Jaws of Life or they would have been paralyzed," he said.
Senior Airman Logan Smith, a medic with the aeromedical evacuation squadron, said the mass casualty exercise was an excellent training scenario that enabled Airmen to see firsthand the critical roles they play when it came to administering lifesaving skills.
Staff Sgt. Sam Deverell, a firefighter with the 167th Airlift Wing, said the training exercise allowed them to have hands-on training with the Jaws of Life to help in the extrication of crash victims.
"It's a good refresher course," Deverell said. "Here at the Guard Base we don't get to use these every day."