By Sarah Mansheim
On Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, WVSOM students gathered on the medical school’s lawn as a Black Hawk helicopter dropped slowly to the ground, its propellers blowing grass and debris as far as 50 yards away. The helicopter was a rescue unit, the tell-tale red cross emblems were painted on the underside and on the sides of the enormous machine.
One of the officers who exited the helicopter was third-year medical student CDR James Mason, who was there with his colleagues to address his fellow students about the following day’s mass casualty exercise at the Raleigh County Airport in Beaver.
Mason, along with MAJ John Snedegar, addressed the more than 130 osteopathic students who’d gathered in two adjoining lecture halls in order to be briefed on their roles as crash victims in the exercise.
The mass casualty exercise was a simulated airplane crash on the Raleigh County Airport runway, designed by the West Virginia National Guard to test the response of local fire, EMT and law enforcement departments, along with hospitals around the state, in case of an actual disaster.
After the Friday briefing, where students were advised to dress in comfortable, old clothes that they did not mind getting ruined by fake blood and tearing, and sensible shoes, students went back onto the lawn to get instructions on how to buckle up in the Black Hawk – some “victims” would be flown in the Army helicopter, while others would be transported in other medical helicopters operated by HealthNet and Air Evac. Other “victims” would be transported via ambulance.
The exercise was performed in a partnership between the WVSOM Rural Health Initiative, the federal government and the National Guard.
“The purpose of the exercise is to stress the state’s emergency responses,” said Mason.
“If we’re not prepared, we’re not doing a service to our first responders or to our patients,” explained Snedegar, who is also a registered nurse.
After a controlled explosion on the airport runway around noon on Saturday, emergency response crews were called to the scene. Most of the first responders did not know it was a training exercise before hand, and, upon arrival, they were faced with the “victims’” injuries, which included burns, fractures, chest injuries, impalements, lacerations, smoke inhalations and even a pre-term labor delivery.
Second-year medical student Lucas Hamrick said on Friday he was looking forward to the exercise. He said the training exercise is vital for rising doctors like himself to be exposed to other factions of the healthcare world such as emergency responders.
Hamrick didn’t know yet what his “injuries” were going to be, but he said he hoped he was going to be placed in the Black Hawk.
“I hope to be as gross as possible,” he quipped.