Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services recruit Will Bono, center, tries to run from emergency responders during a disaster training drill at Southern Regional Medical Center Wednesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
RIVERDALE — The driveway for Southern Regional Medical Center’s emergency department was filled with the blood curdling screams of grown men Wednesday morning.
Some of the men, recruits for Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services, ran around the driveway in circles screaming at the top of their lungs. A few screamed that they were “pain” because anhydrous ammonia had been “spilled” on them.
“My skin is burning,” one man wailed.
As the man screamed, nurses in hazmat suits tried to hold him down so he could be hosed off with the same kind of high water pressure the recruits would use to fight fires.
Some of the recruits had to be restrained with more physical force than others. The goal was to spray them down with a fire hose to get as much of the “chemical” off of them as possible. They then had to be moved into a tent, where they had to remove their shirts.
But that wasn’t always easy.
“Let me go, I’ve got to get to the hospital,” one man screamed as he tried to break free from a nurse’s grip.
“Sir, you’re at the hospital, please calm down so we can assist you,” said registered nurse Nicola Anderson through a megaphone.
Clayton County Disaster Preparedness Drill
Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services partnered with Southern Regional Medical Center to hold a disaster preparedness drill at the hospital Wednesday.
Nothing about the situation was real. There was no chemical spill. The recruits’ skin wasn’t really burning, although a few of them complained about feeling a little chilly after being hosed down. It was all part of a disaster preparedness drill for the fire department and Southern Regional staff.
Officials from the Clayton County Board of Health and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency were on hand to watch the drill.
The hospital and the fire department were trying out new equipment they’ve received in the last year.
“Emergency management was assisting the hospital with their annual drill that they have to do to get familiar with their decon equipment, and then the second part of what we wanted to do is to introduce the hospital to our new decon truck and what our capabilities are,” said Assistant Fire Chief Landry Merkison.
The hospital recently obtained a new deluge kit, which includes a fire hose and two manifolds, to help handle hazmat situations at the hospital. Southern Regional officials also wanted to test the hospital staff’s response times in the event that they have to deal with patients in a hazmat situation.
“If an event happens, many times the fire department of course responds to that event,” said Theresa Thomas, the performance improvement coordinator for the hospital’s emergency room. “What the hospital has to be prepared to respond to are those people who don’t want to wait for the fire department to take care of them. They may just come on their own.”
Thomas said hospital staff has to make sure those patients don’t get into areas of the emergency room or the hospital where they could contaminate equipment or other people. If there are a large number of people coming for self-referrals after a hazmat incident, the hospital is required to have a response center set up outside.
The drill showed there was room for improvement by Southern Regional staff, said Thomas.
“We learned a lot,” she said. “We went on the basis that a lot of times, you don’t know who your resources are going to be and you have to do what’s called ‘Just In Time Training.’ That works if people come into the emergency room, but we need to get our people better prepared for how to get in and out of those suits quickly and how to handle the victims coming in.”
Meanwhile, the fire department purchased its mobile decontamination unit this past spring. After the hospital staff finished with their portion of the training exercise, everyone went to the fire station next to the hospital to watch fire fighters practice what they would do with the decontamination unit in the event of an emergency.
Merkison said the the department is one of only a few in metro Atlanta, and the only one south of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, that has a mobile decontamination unit. That means the department could be called in to help other agencies, from Henry County to Gwinnett County, respond to hazmat situations.
“We have to be ready to go at all times,” said Merkison.
Merkison also said leaders from the fire department and the hospital will now work together and use the event as a spring board to merge their emergency response policies to improve their handling of hazmat situations.
“In the event we have to do this for real, we can hopefully free up the hospital staff to treat patients and let our staff do all of the decon work,” he said.