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Agencies train for mock disaster

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

What would happen if a tornado struck Homestead Nursing Home at 5 a.m.?

It was the type of situation emergency responders hope will never happen, but one they must train for nonetheless. Responders from Henry County EMS and the New Castle and Eminence Fire Departments practiced that scenario Saturday morning.

As the scenario played out, Homestead staff members played the part of those injured in the disaster, with injuries ranging from minor bumps and scrapes to more severe injuries. Some played their roles with gusto, keeping EMTs hopping by wandering off or screaming for their friends. It was, in all likelihood, exactly what responders would have to deal with on the scene had it been real.

At 9 a.m., the dispatch was made for the mock disaster, and shortly thereafter, a paramedic was on scene, quickly followed by one truck each from the New Castle and Eminence fire departments. The Henry County Sheriff’s Department also was on hand for the drill.

Don Renn, an emergency management area coordinator out of Louisville and John Bastin, former area coordinator for Henry County were on hand to critique the drill, and had some seemingly harsh words.

“I gotta tell you,” Renn said during the debriefing afterwards, “it looked like hell. But, every question I asked, you answered.”

Renn noted that had the situation been a real emergency, the scene would have been just as chaotic for a few minutes, if not more so, as responders assess what’s happening.

For the nursing home staff, Renn complimented Jill Fallis, the center’s director of nursing.

“I tell you ... she’s a commander,” he said. After ensuring that her patients were taken care of and conducting a second search, Fallis’ next concern was for her staff. Renn said that when someone from inside the facility can report that a secondary search has been completed and all patients and staff are accounted for, that makes the job of the responders that much easier.

Bastin said he critiqued the exercise from a command standpoint, and was concerned that he didn’t see anyone talking. He said that could have been because of what he called “exercise-itis.”

“Everybody knew what the scenario was,” he said. “In real life, you wouldn’t have that.”

Bastin said it took 12 minutes for anyone from the nursing home staff to come out of the building. Fallis and LPN Janice Jaggers said that’s due in part to a rule that they cannot leave their patients or exit the building until an emergency responder tells them to do so.

Bastin also said command of the scene never came together in a visible way.

“If this was a real event, all of this would be huge,” he said. “Maybe CNN huge.”

As the debriefing continued, positives developed, including the discussion of a traffic routing plan for getting emergency vehicles in and out of the nursing home area, as well as what to do with concerned family members, who more likely that not, would converge upon the scene.

Homestead Nursing Home director Don Dalger said the staff learned a few things, and that there was work to be done regarding the facilities emergency response.

New Castle Fire Chief Gene Raake said that overall, things went well during the exercise and that responders learned something.

“If we learned from it, it was a success,” he said. “But if we came in and didn’t make any mistakes, then we didn’t do any of us any good.”

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.