Story by Staff Sgt. Gene Arnold, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – “Attention, attention, attention … this is a test of the Camp Arifjan emergency management plan,” echoed from the base wide speaker system on the morning of Feb. 5.
This marked the beginning of the mass casualty exercise that would test emergency services in case of a real world crisis.
“The use of sirens and light will be used by emergency services,” resonated through the installation.
The exercise was a multiple platform training event that executed the emergency management and response standard operating procedures in case of a catastrophic event on an installation.
“We practice this to see how we would interface between the various agencies and units. We do this to check our own procedures and battle drills are in place and functional,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Samuel Thomas, safety officer for the 1100th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group.
Over the course of several weeks, Thomas, with the help of several key players across the installation, collaborated to develop a training scenario that would test the efficiency of services provided from the emergency response staff, hospital staff and unit located along the flight line.
“This was an exercise of the Camp Arifjan Emergency Management Plan and also a part of our pre-accident plan here at airfield. This was a combined exercise for our units and the post,” said Thomas. “We have a few units out here that have a quarterly requirement to do this type of exercise.”
“MASCAL, MASCAL, MASCAL” with a pause followed by “All medical personal report to the hospital,” boomed from the base-wide notification system.
Located at Patton Airfield, the scenario called for a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to land and come into contact with a “fuel” truck, which notionally caused the rotor blades to shatter, injuring awaiting passengers on the flight line and causing a hazardous material spill. The fray also caused a small “fire” at a nearby building.
“We had a lot of participation today,” said Thomas. “The emergency responders were able to process immediate lifesaving [efforts], transport them to the hospital. Our CLS [combat lifesaver] personnel, who get trained up during the year, [were] available to respond to the passengers ‘mowed down’ by the helicopter blade pieces.”
In past quarterly scenarios, an event of this magnitude had yet to occur, which presented a challenge for those participating.
“We haven’t had a drill like this in more than 10 years. We have had some a lot smaller but none the level of fire, [hazardous material spill], MASCAL of this level,” said John Ramos, fire captain, Area Support Group-Kuwait, Fire and Emergency Services.
The initial responders on the scene were the unit’s combat life savers; the use of tactical combat casualty care was used to help stop the bleeding from extremities, compress chest wounds and place the “casualties” in the proper position to prevent shock. The key to this was their ability to stay calm due to the gruesome conditions of most of the casualties with the help of makeup and amounts of fake blood spilled on uniforms and on the ground for the total effect.
In any situation where a catastrophic event occurs, it’s always important to gain command and control of the area. As the Area Support Group Kuwait fire department arrived at the scene of the accident, the first step was to extinguish the “fire” of the helicopter, whose rotor blades were still in motion, and shutdown the aircraft without causing further damage.
Once the aircraft was shutdown, the ambulances and emergency medical technicians were allowed on the scene to start conducting medical treatment to the 15 “casualties” and remove them from the scene, determined by level of care required. Even through the initial sting of all the movement, these professionals rose to the challenge.
“I believe we did well. We got a lot right, got a few things wrong. We have to go back to our training; safety first, take it slow, pick out the things you can handle and get those done and move to the bigger tasks,” said Ramos.
If this was a Hollywood production, Thomas would’ve been pleased with the outcome. He said, when the scenario was executed, there was no script for participants. The emergency responders had great communication and the “incident” was contained without further injuries.