CHATHAM — When a bus overturns, a mass shooter strikes, or a car plows through a crowd of pedestrians, it can do more than cause lots of casualties. It can overwhelm the regional network of responders, ambulances and hospitals.
Working under a new statewide emergency medical services plan for mass casualty incidents, Lower Cape firefighters are learning how to quickly size up an emergency and call in additional resources. Crews from Chatham, Harwich, Orleans, Brewster and Eastham gathered in Chatham Saturday to take part in a four-hour training program the departments jointly developed. Similar sessions will be held regularly in each town.
Paramedic Mark Heller, the EMS coordinator for the Chatham Fire Department, said the drill isn't about treating patients, something local medics and EMTs do every day. The training teaches responders to recognize a mass casualty incident and to declare one early.
“Most of all, you have to realize when your resources are taxed,” he said. The scenario played out Saturday was a bus crash. “This is the kind of situation that can go bad really quick,” Heller said. The key is to teach EMS providers to think like managers, even if they aren't managers in their regular positions.
The plan dovetails with the Incident Command System, an organizational structure that helps first responders manage emergencies efficiently. It involves procedures for calling up additional resources from surrounding communities and efficiently evaluating and prioritizing the injured, starting treatment and transporting them to hospitals. Because any ambulance crew can be the first on the scene of a mass casualty incident, responders need to be trained to immediately implement the plan.
“You can't step out of the ambulance and start treating the first patient,” Heller said.