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Calif. Agencies Practice for MCIs

EUREKA, Calif. -- For paramedics, figuring multiple injured patients' status and deciding where to send them for medical treatment can be the most stressful part of the job.

Ultimately, their decisions will affect patients' and their families' lives. That's why these paramedics, along with many other local medical and law enforcement agencies, spent much of Saturday responding to a simulated "multi-casualty incident" involving a school bus and two cars.

"It pushes all our resources to the limit," said Marcus McCoy, Humboldt (Calif.) Fire District assistant fire chief. A multi-casualty incident is any incident with three or more potentially critical patients, or an incident requiring more resources than normally available.

The fictitious collision involved a school bus with 25 people on-board, and two cars at the public safety training facility, just off Hilfiker Lane in south Eureka. The "crash" occurred around 11 a.m., and agencies such as the Eureka Fire Department, the Eureka Police Department, the Humboldt Fire District, Cal Fire, City Ambulance, Arcata-Mad River Ambulance, local hospitals and others, responded.

Victims were made-up to display bloody wounds and burns, some with bones protruding from their bodies and even brain matter coming out of skulls. They acted realistically, crying for help and some, screaming in agony.

"I think these are tougher emotionally," said Glenn Ziemer, Humboldt Fire District fire chief, referring to paramedics having to leave deceased victims with a triage tag indicating "dead" around a patient's neck.

Though incidents like the simulated bus-vehicle crash are a rarity in Humboldt County, they still happen occasionally, Ziemer said. In his 30 years working in the county, he's known of two multi-casualty incidents. And when they occur, they're usually vehicle-related, he said.

"Given the 101 corridor, having an accident is the most likely," Ziemer said. "You could easily have it with a school bus or mass transit vehicle."

Training drills such as this happen every year, McCoy said, to help agencies communicate and coordinate in case of a real incident of this magnitude.

"All the logistics get to be a big, big deal," Ziemer said.

Foxi Keane, a paramedic with City Ambulance, said the real-life preparation helped the agencies work together.

"It's pretty unnerving to be the one to go through and triage and decide who goes where and when."

Karen Wilkinson can be reached at 441-0514 or kwilkinson@times-standard.com

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