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Regional emergency responders conduct exercise with Patriot Wing
More than 125 representatives of regional hospitals, municipal and emergency workers, as well as Patriot Wing members converged on the base Oct. 21 for a National Disaster Medical System exercise that included Westover Air Reserve Base and the Springfield, Mass. Area. (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Timm Huffman)
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Emergency responders conduct exercise with Patriot Wing

Posted 11/26/2012   Updated 11/26/2012 Email story   Print story


by 2nd Lt. Andre Bowser
439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

11/26/2012 - WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- More than 125 representatives of regional hospitals, municipal and emergency workers, as well as Patriot Wing members converged on base Oct. 21 for a federal National Disaster Medical System exercise.

Deploying C-5 aircraft, a helicopter and a parade of ambulances, among other emergency vehicles, exercise participants shuttled mock patients through stages of the mass casualty exercise.

The scenario involved a natural disaster in a neighboring state with numerous injured patients transported by Air Force medical airlift from the disaster site to a patient reception team at Westover.

"It takes 25 agencies to do what we're doing here today," Springfield's Emergency Preparedness Director Robert Hassett told the emergency responders from around the region, including officials from the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System and Red Cross. "Today is all about the process, and our focus is on administration and logistics of transporting medical patients safely."

To that end, Hassett said communication between the 25 participating agencies was key.

"Communicate well with each other and solve problems as we see them -- and above all document everything so that we can learn from it," he said.

Beverly Hirschhorn, a member of the Medical Reserve Corps, said the opportunity to interact and work with the other agencies was a huge benefit to the exercise.

"We got a sense of how we could fit it in a larger response and learned flexibility in terms of taking any role we are requested to do. We also got a fantastic sense of the different types of people and agencies that are brought in to do this type of an event."

Rows of ambulances idled outside the base hangar, all standing by to drive to area hospitals where medical staff would receive simulated patients; inside the Base Hangar, dozens of stretchers were lined up in rows with inflatable medical patients resting on the guernes, their simulated ailments and vital statistics described on pieces of paper affixed to the puffed-up bodies.

In all, 48 "patients" were stabilized before being transported to hospitals in all four Western Massachusetts counties -- well within the required six-hour window.

Hassett told exercise participants that it was about much more than shuttling medical patients.

"Imagine you're sent hundreds of miles away from home for a medical issue in an emergency," he started, continuing to describe the "need to care for the whole person."

In a real-world incident, a mobile kitchen would be deployed and sanitary items would be provided to patients, Hassett said. The Red Cross was on hand providing creature comforts to participants.

Westover is one of two ports of entry in the state for medical patients evacuated from a neighboring state. The other port is Boston's Logan International Airport.

Participants in the regional exercise included the Department of Veterans Affairs, the City of Springfield Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Hampden County Medical Reserve Corps, American Red Cross, 11 area hospitals, area emergency medical response units, and units assigned to Westover and the Massachusetts National Guard.

oger Johnson, VA director in Central Western Mass., and the federal coordinating officer for the exercise, said the training event was a chance to brush up on skills and get ready should the real thing happen.

"Our responsibilities as local, state and federal participants are to care for all patients needing our assistance as if they were our own neighbors," he said.

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