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Ambulances prepare for worst

In a regional emergency, ambulance crews that converge on the scene from separate jurisdictions must quickly determine who they are working with, and what their jobs are. This situation can prove confusing when the various crews don’t know each other, or have never seen each other.Ambulance services from Parachute to Carbondale this week got a big boost in connecting with each other during emergencies, when they received Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) bags as part of a three-step emergency preparedness program.The duffel-sized bags are each stocked with identifying vests for emergency responders to wear, plus clipboards and field materials to speed treatment and transport victims as quickly as possible.”This system was used on the Coal Seam Fire,” said Carl Smith, EMS coordinator for the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District. “It was logical to carry this forward.”A key component of the MCI bags is blue vests for ambulance crew members that identify four duties: unit leader, treatment unit leader, transport, and group supervisor.Smith said when more than one ambulance district shows up at an emergency scene, the crews can now quickly identify each other, and know what their duties are. Faster identification cuts down confusion, and can ensure victims are treated or transported to hospitals more quickly.The MCI bags, each black in color with gold embroidered lettering, contain clipboards with information sheets for each of the four decisionmakers. For example, an ambulance crew member in the “transportation” vest has a clipboard list of all area hospitals and clinics. The list has space for victims’ conditions and other information, such as the number of patients a hospital can accept. The idea is to make sure ambulance crews don’t overwhelm hospitals, if other treatment options are available.Each ambulance crew will also be equipped with the same triage tags, which list victims according to four injury levels, from not injured to deceased.”This system standardizes things,” Smith said. “Before, each ambulance had their own tags.”The MCI bags were created and funded through the Garfield Emergency Medical and Trauma Advisory Committee, under the leadership of Valley View Hospital trauma coordinator Nancy Frizell.”An event such as a plane crash, a train derailment or a bus accident is beyond the ability of any single agency to handle,” Smith said. “In addition, the two hospitals could be overwhelmed with too many patients at one time. The committee developed a three-phase program to develop procedures and coordination in dealing with mass casualty incident events in Garfield County.”Smith said the next two steps for the Advisory Committee are to create portable medical supply caches for ambulances, and simulate a mass casualty to test the system’s capabilities.The mass casualty incident program is funded through the Colorado Health Department.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534lburton@postindependent.com


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