It Was Just A Drill – This Time

OSWEGO, NY – Nearly 50 New Vision medical students helped train members of Oswego Hospital’s staff on Friday.

The annual drill was held outside the hospital’s West Seventh Street emergency entrance. It is designed to test the adequacy of the hospital’s decontamination plan and the over all performance of its staff for an incident involving chemically contaminated patients, according to Paul Vandish, the hospital’s chief Quality/Risk/Compliance Officer.

A "victim" is washed down by a hospital staff member dressed in protective gear.

The exercise revolved around several students and some adults that attending an event at a school auditorium. At some point during the event, “suddenly and unexpectedly several rapid popping sounds were heard; the source couldn’t be determined,” explained Marion Ciciarelli, public relations manager for the hospital.

According to the scenario, several of the attendees began to experience symptoms including tearing, redness, pain, impaired vision, burning sensations on the skin and inside their nose and mouth, as well as soreness and reddening of the skin.

Some are experiencing abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting and difficulty breathing among other symptoms.

Most are coughing uncontrollably and gagging and have a noticeable white powder residue on their skin and clothes. All are weak but able to walk.

Rather than wait for emergency services personnel to respond, they rush to Oswego Hospital.

Firefighters and a staff member of Oswego Hospital attend to a "victim" who wandered away from the decontamination site and collapsed.
Firefighters and a staff member of Oswego Hospital attend to a

Medical staff quickly erected two temporary structures; one a warm area to house the victims and the other a large shower unit.

Two by two the victims were taken through the shower. After they disrobed and their belongings sealed in plastic bags, they were sprayed with water to wash away the contaminant.

It is discovered that the “victims” have been exposed to oleoresin capsicum (a type of pepper spray).

In this case, the OC was discharged from a pepper gun similar to a paintball gun.

At the time of exposure, the source as well as the actual substance wasn’t immediately known.

At first glance, the signs of OC exposure are practically indistinguishable from those of nerve agents. Effects of pepper spray mimic many symptoms of chemical agents, such as nerve and choking agents, but without significant risk of death or permanent injury.

People exposed to OC experience a burning sensation particularly in the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. Severe pain and tearing may result in temporary blindness and breathing may become difficult as OC affects the respiratory system.

Patients should be decontaminated by removing contaminated clothing and flushing the exposed skin area with plain water.

Patricia Egan, director of the Oswego County Emergency Management Office, was impressed with the way the hospital staff conducted itself during the drill.

As part of the drill, the hospital's Decon Team had to deal with a "contaminated" mother and her baby.
As part of the drill, the hospital

“The teamwork was good,” she said. “They communicated with each other and the victims. That’s very helpful.”

Shayla LoBello, a student from Pulaski, was one of the “victims.”

She said she thought the drill was very realistic.

“It was pretty realistic, a very good experience. It’s good practice so if something does happen they will know what to do to take care of it,” she said.

Logan Lewis, another student, agreed.

The participants were very serious about what they were doing, he said.

“It was very realistic. Everyone did things very efficiently. They got (the victims) through quickly and sure we were all cleaned off,” he said. “They took it very seriously. They made sure we did everything as we should.”

“The scenario was we were all in the auditorium and all of sudden we heard some popping sounds and our eyes started burning, our skin started burning, too,” explained Alexis Ranous of OHS. “It was all handled very realistically.”

She noted they sprinkled baby powder on their skin to simulate where the OC was on their bodies.

The hospital’s planned response included activating the trained Decon Team, dressed in appropriate gear, setting up the site with a possible decontamination shelter and effectively processing the “victims” through the decontamination process.

Some of the "victims" came through the decontamination process on a stretcher.
Some of the

“The “victims/actors” included members of the BOCES’ New Vision Class, LPN Class and hospital staff and Oswego Fire Department.

All the students were given different parts to play.

The drill was observed and evaluated by the OFD and representatives from the NYS Department of Health, Oswego County Fire Coordinator’s Office, Oswego County Emergency Management Office, Oswego County Health Department, as well as other regional emergency preparedness coordinators.

The drill went rather well, Vandish said.

“It is well documented that a large percentage of victims that are involved in a chemical incident may self report to hospitals. Being able to provide essential decontamination prior to the entry into our community hospital is a must for continued hospital operations,” he pointed out. Exercises like this require extensive pre-planning and coordination. However, the time spent upfront with plan design and actual testing of our plan make us that much more efficient and effective should a real event occur requiring our response.”

It is a learning opportunity for the hospital staff to examine the unique aspects of responding to a potential intentional and non-intentional chemical and to make improvements on the plan as needed, he continued.

There are still things that have to be worked on; that’s the reason for holding such drills, to be able to know what the strengths and weakness are, he added.

The organizers tried to make it as realistic as possible for the hospital staff, he said.

There was a victim who came in with a baby, some victims fainted while waiting for treatment and needed to be taken through the decontamination process on a stretcher.

As part of the exercise, the hospital’s response was examined and evaluated.

An “After Action Report and Improvement Plan” with recommendations will be prepared for future training, equipment and response procedure, Vandish noted.

A member of Oswego Hospital's staff checks a "victim's" condition before sending him through the decontamination shower.</p>
A member of Oswego Hospital

“The critique of our drill went well. All of the evaluators that included our state, regional, county and city emergency preparedness partners were in agreement that our staff performed exceedingly well to respond to this ‘event,'” Vandish said. “Many referred to our response as a ‘well-oiled machine’ and indicated that the improvements we have made over recent years to our plan and the operational aspects of our response were apparent and very effective.”

“For its size, this hospital is A-1 as far as giving its act together for this sort of event,” Egan said. “They are quite prepared and there doesn’t seem to be any problems with their plan.”

The reason it was going so well, she said, was the fact the hospital isn’t afraid to challenege its staff every year with new and bigger challenges.

“This impresses me every time because I see them doing more bigger, difficult, uglier type incidents as part of the drill. They don’t allow the staff to get comfortable with just one incident – they continually challenge them to do more. Years ago, the first drill was a lot of new equipment and people in suits. Now, they’re really making them work. That’s what a drill is supposed to do, not just say, ataboy.’ It’ supposed to a test.”

But, Vandish added, the staff will continue to train to make sure they are prepared for any emergency.

“There are a lot of businesses and industries that use a host of chemicals,” Vandish noted. “The contamination could be unintentional or intentional. We have to train for all types of emergencies. We have to be well-trained, because you never know when something might happen.”