BRAWLEY – Local hospitals and emergency response agencies participated in a Mass Decontamination exercise that tested their response time and level of preparedness in the event of widespread exposure to hazardous materials.
Both Pioneers Memorial Hospital and El Centro Regional Medical Center hosted the event outside their facilities on Wednesday, April 29. The event began at 7:30 a.m. and ran until 11 a.m.
The Imperial Valley Hazardous Emergency Assistance Team (IV HEAT), Imperial County Public Health Department, Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, and El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) all participated to test their readiness and flow of communication.
The annual event is based off of realistic threats to residents and visitors of Imperial County, thus is conducive for evaluating countywide disaster preparedness. A total of 60-80 medical personnel participated at Pioneers Hospital alone, encompassing representatives from fire staff, hospital staff, and those who contributed as patients.
In this mock trial, a group of students from IVC’s Paramedic Program acted as real life migrant workers who were sprayed by organophosphate, a type of fertilizer. They were carried in personal vehicles to Pioneers Hospital, and treated by the HazMat team.
The “patients” were sprayed down with water, decontaminated, and given mass casualty incident tags, just as they would were there to be an actual incident.
The victims were then labeled by priority based on the seriousness of their condition, and treated from there. The patients’ vitals and blood pressure levels were monitored until cleared.
Jake Jones, a 3rd year firefighter for El Centro Fire Department, who is also enrolled in IVC’s Paramedic Program, acted as a patient and was able to experience what it is like to be on the receiving end of emergency response personnel.
It was an effective experience, said Jones, enabling him to gain a different perspective as a patient.
“I feel confident in their skills,” Jones stated (in reference to IV HEAT and Pioneers Hospital), “we know what to expect from a real event.”
Joe Bernal, a veteran firefighter for El Centro explained IV HEAT’s role, stating, “this is a joint drill between El Centro Regional and Pioneers Memorial Hospital and we took this opportunity to join in.”
He expounded, “All the fire departments (Brawley, Calexico, El Centro) present represented the IV HEAT HazMat Team and we took this opportunity to participate with both hospitals in this annual decon. This is the first year in awhile that we’ve participated as a full HazMat team.”
After completing triage and mock medical care with the patients, leaders from the Fire Department, hospital staff, and Public Health department met to debrief and evaluate the event.
Julie Cunningham, Chief Human Resources Officer for PMH recapped the event, stating that from a coordination standpoint, everything went well. “There can always be things to improve upon,” she said, “that is the reason for the drills.”
Communication is a key factor whenever multi-agencies are involved, Cunningham said, as well as making sure each person understands their role.
Cunningham clarified that these drills are for extra preparation. All agencies involved are already highly trained in emergency response, and she is confident they are able to handle the emergencies that come their way.