SHCHD staff drills to save victims of toxic fire

GARBERVILLE >> Imagine an explosion and fire in a home hash oil lab, exposing a half dozen occupants including several children to toxic chemicals as well as severe burns and injuries. Local firefighters and first responders rush to the scene, rescue the victims, and bring them to the nearest hospital -- in this case, Jerold Phelps Memorial Hospital in Garberville.

While the ambulance is on its way, hospital staff must get ready to decontaminate and treat the victims as quickly as possible

Last Wednesday, June 4, two dozen Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District staff members gathered to drill for just such a disaster -- this year's "theme" for SHCHD's annual disaster preparedness drill. Their goal was to provide fast and effective treatment to save lives and reduce the potential for long-term debilitating results.

The staff divided into crews to erect the portable decontamination unit and treatment tent, to practice registering and triaging the victims, and to establish the most efficient ways to examine and treat them.

The victims are first brought to the shower tent, set up right next to the ambulance bay at the emergency room entrance, where toxins can be rinsed off and their clothing removed.

Transport teams then move them by gurney to the hospital courtyard where the big treatment tent is set up with cots, supplies, and medical personnel ready to promptly begin doing whatever needs to be done to stabilize the victims and start the appropriate treatment.

Setting up the tents and working out the most efficient procedures involved some frustrating moments of trial and error, but as one of the nurses said, "That's why we have preparedness drills -- so we'll be ready when it's the real thing."