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Hawkins earns passing grade on disaster drill

Jeff Bobo • Sep 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County fire, ambulance and rescue personnel received a passing grade for Saturday’s county-wide disaster drill, although county Emergency Management Agency director Gary Murrell said there were some things that could have been better.

Hawkins County’s various emergency response agencies converged on the Phipps Bend Industrial Park Saturday morning for a mock disaster simultaneously involving a school bus full of injured children, a tanker leaking pesticide, and three vehicle pileup — with a total of 38 victims including several deceased.

The disaster began around 9 a.m., and by noon there were observers from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) evaluating the county’s performance. The county was graded on a pass/fail basis.

“The last word we had from TEMA was that we did a good job, and that we passed,” Murrell said. “We’ve still got a lot of fine tuning, as with anything. Some of our big problems were communications. With that many agencies talking at the same time we’re going to work on communications and having a single radio frequency for that.

“We also need to have people trained in the same procedures throughout the county, instead of having one agency trained to do things one way, and another does it different. We’re going to try to get it where everybody is playing off the same sheet of music.”

Other than that, the disaster drill went off without a hitch, Murrell said.

One TEMA observer commented that he’d never see 11 fire departments work as well together as they did at Phipps Bend Saturday morning.

“That’s something we seldom hear about Hawkins County,” Murrell said. “We’re not known for working well together over here, and we bicker and feud sometimes. When it matters everybody comes together and does what they need to do.”

TEMA requires counties to hold county-wide disaster drills annually, but if a county has an actual event which is catastrophic enough, the drill for that year is waved.

For example, last year Hawkins County had the Pressman’s home wildfire, and the year before a plant burned down at Phipps Bend. In 2006 there was a massive brush fire in Mooresburg.

It’s been several years Hawkins County needed to hold a mock disaster, but Murrell noted — knocking on wood as he said it — that Hawkins County hasn’t had a major disasters so far this year.

Three Boy Scout troops from the Sequoia Council, including two from Rogersville and one from Fall Branch, worked on their emergency preparedness badges by serving as victims with their adult troop leaders in Saturday’s disaster.

There were 38 patients including 28 from the bus and 10 from the tanker wreck/three car pileup who were contaminated.

EMS personnel used a “smart triage system” used by every ambulance service in Tennessee to determine which patients are transported first.

“By just asking three or four simple questions and knowing just the basics we triage those folks out and they’re placed in the order they need to go,” Hawkins EMS director Ric Chapman said. “You see the different zones, the flags and the tarps are different colors, and everything is color coordinated. You just look at the colors and you know which goes first which goes second, which goes third and which ones are deceased.”

There were only six ambulances used in the drill, and the mock patients were actually transported to the Hawkins County Memorial Hospital, but in reality there would be 18 available combined from Church Hill EMS and Hawkins EMS.

The mock disaster took place in a massive empty lot at the end of Phipps Bend Road.

The drill area was divided into several sections. There was the bus scene, where the Boy Scouts were evacuated from at the outset of the drill.

Then there was the triage scene, where the injured scouts were placed in categories and evacuated by ambulance based on the severity of their injuries.

There was also the tanker wreck area which included several victims who apparently had gone to assist the tanker driver and were overcome by fumes from the pesticide spill.

HAZMAT personnel evacuated the injured from the tanker scene and took them to a decontamination area near the command post. Upon being decontaminated those victims were transported as well, followed by the HAZMAT responder coordinating a cleanup of the spill.

And as if that wasn’t enough calamity, there was a three car pileup right in-between the bus and the tanker where rescuers practiced extraction maneuvers.

Murrell said there will be a training video created from Saturday’s drill which will be distributed to all Hawkins County rescue agencies for training purposes.

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