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Firefighters practice saving lives at mock mass casualty

Published October 10, 2012 2:34 pm

Safety • Responders refine approach to triage and treatment in mass shooting drill.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Huddled around a dispatch radio, everyone waited to hear what had gone wrong.

Moments later, the female voice came through the radio loud and clear: There was an active shooter at the Utah State Fairpark, at least 20 people were down — send all available units.

Luckily, the units were already there and the shooting only imagined as Salt Lake Valley fire departments practiced responding Wednesday to a mock mass casualty incident with dozens of victims who needed help.

All but two of the approximately 50 victims were inflatable adult- and child-sized dummies scattered across the rodeo arena of the park. The gray mannequins slumped sideways in the grandstand seats, lay listless on the dirt, or remained hidden.

The scene was reminiscent of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., earlier this year. But since mass casualty incidents in the Salt Lake Valley, such as the Trolley Square shooting in 2007, don't happen often, "it's important for us to get practice," said Craig Orum, a Salt Lake City firefighter.

A crew of Salt Lake firefighters arrived on the scene to find their first "patient," its legs sticking out of a booth. They determined from a card on the dummy listing its vitals and injuries that the patient was healthy enough to walk — theoretically — and moved on to the rest.

Allison Tripp and Tanya Dow, the two volunteer victims, were prone in the grandstand as they waited for help. They watched emergency responders spread across the arena, getting to patients as quickly as they could.

Tripp said she realized the severity of such a crisis when she volunteered at a previous practice run.

"I would probably die if this was real," she said.

The advanced emergency medical technician student said there is no way responders can get to everyone in time, with only so many resources available.

As a student with mostly classroom experience, she said it was helpful to witness a situation in which rescuers "have more than they can handle."

At least a handful of personnel from seven fire departments, Gold Cross Ambulance and Salt Lake City police convened on the arena, as they would in a real-life emergency. The responders called for more help given the number of patients, but dispatch informed them they had to make do.

Firefighters first tagged each patient with a green, yellow or red tape, depending on whether they had minor, serious or critical injuries, respectively. The red-tagged patients were transported immediately, while yellow and green patients were carried on boards and in bags to a treatment area near the horse stables.

Orum learned during the practice Wednesday that it was quicker and easier to move patients in bags than on boards, as long as they didn't have any spinal problems.

Other firefighters will get their practice during drills that continue this month.

This is the second consecutive year that Salt Lake Valley fire departments have practiced a mass casualty incident. They hold at least 10 practice rounds throughout the valley each year in different locations so the largest number of responders can participate, said Jasen Asay, spokesman for Salt Lake City Fire Department.

mmcfall@sltrib.com