GODFREY – Multiple area agencies teamed up to coordinate and conduct a large-scale HazMat mass casualty exercise for first responders and nursing students on Friday.
The event was hosted by Godfrey’s Public Safety Administrator and Lewis and Clark Community College Campus Emergency Management Consultant Chris Sichra. Sichra’s career spans multiple agencies, including the Olin Protection Department, the St. Louis Marshals Office and the St. Louis Fire Department.
“We hold a mock disaster training exercise every few years to ensure the campus is prepared in the event of a real emergency,” said Sichra. “This year, we were able to include students in the exercise, and give them some hands-on training for how to operate during a complex emergency incident.”
L&C deployed its Emergency Operations Team at 10:23 a.m., and crews began responding to the area near the Hatheway Cultural Center. Godfrey Fire Chief Eric Cranmer, who served as incident commander, laid out the scenario.
The incident simulated Friday was a hazardous chemical spill. The scenario was a delivery person attempting to take barrels of pool chemicals down to the basement to the mechanical room of the Hathaway Cultural Center.
The chemicals spilled, creating heavy fumes on the basement floor. Nursing students arrived on the scene to serve as both nurses and victims exposed to the fumes.
LCCC Student Government Association President David Crull played a victim in the scenario. Thirty-nine nursing students played the other victims, complete with makeup and fake tears, and then switched roles with a partner, so each could have a turn being the victim and the triage nurse.
A triage area was set up in a parking lot across the street from the west entrance to Hatheway.
Katheryn Henke, a fourth semester Nursing student from Calhoun County, said the exercise was eye opening.
“The first responders and everyone on scene went above and beyond to answer all of our questions, including ones we didn’t know to ask,” she said.
When playing victims, Henke and the others wore a QR code around their necks which detailed their health statistics. They were asked to moan and wheeze and simulate other symptoms so their partners would be able to properly assess their condition and triage them. Henke preferred playing the role of a nurse.
“This really enhanced my learning experience,” she said. “You don’t learn everything in Nursing school. With this opportunity, professionals have taken you under their wing and shown you what a similar situation might look like in real life, so you can apply the basics you’ve learned to an actual experience.”
The Godfrey Fire Protection District, the Madison County Emergency Management Agency, Alton Memorial Hospital EMS, AVEC and the Madison County Hazardous Materials Team also arrived at the scene. The person acting as the delivery person was taken to the side and then put on a gurney. Nurses then gathered around the delivery person to check his condition.
While this was happening, two firefighters pried open the doors to the cultural center using a crowbar. The basement was dark and filled with hazardous smoke.
The firefighters managed to remove one victim who was immobilized; another was pronounced dead at the scene. Shortly after, members of the Madison County Hazardous Materials Team went inside to retrieve the simulated barrels of hazardous chemicals.
Following the exercises, the nursing students gathered at The Commons in the McPike Math and Science Complex to “recover” and discuss what they had learned through the simulation.
Eric Cranmer, Chief of the Godfrey Fire Protection District, said the students did very well with the training.
“This is a whole new realm for them,” Cranmer said. “It’s good for them and it’s a great learning experience.”
LCCC Learning Assessment Specialist in Nursing Dawna Egelhoff, MSN, RN, was instrumental in the exercise. She noted that none of the nursing students who participated in Friday’s simulation had experienced something like the mock disaster.
“They all did an amazing job,” she said. “This simulation allows them, if a situation happens like this in their profession, to be able to perform their jobs with confidence.”
Sichra thanked the multiple area agencies who participated in the drill.
“I was again impressed by the response and the college leadership/incident management team’s ability to support a multiagency complex incident,” Sichra said. “Both I and Godfrey Mayor Mike McCormick are especially grateful for our first responders and Lewis and Clark Community College’s consistent effort on stepping up and supporting our community by hosting these training events.”