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146th Provides More Than Shelter in Local Medical Training

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Ashley Ramirez
  • 146th Airlift Wing
Members of the 146th Airlift Wing, the 144th Fighter Wing, the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, the 129th Recue Wing, and several hundred volunteers from Ventura County and surrounding areas participated in Operation Medical Shelter 2011, an exercise designed to test the preparedness of first responders during a major disaster on May 11, at the Camarillo Airport. The purpose of this large multi-agency medical drill was to plan and prepare local agencies for a real-world natural disaster.

The day-long exercise simulated the medical needs of local citizens after a major earthquake. More than one hundred volunteer victims were used to help test the preparedness of ten local hospitals, animal control staff members, Emergency Medical Services, Public Health and Air National Guard Medical Squadrons from 3 different units. Master Sergeant Mark Rubio from the 146th Airlift Wing Medical Group, said exercises and drills like these are essential for testing each agency's role in a major natural disaster.

"Every agency has its own way of doing business," Rubio said. "It's important to get everyone together to get trained on what each of us needs to do to get the job done."

Rubio said that this particular exercise was important because it was the first time that the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P) and the Medical Groups have worked with civilians in this capacity.

The Airmen involved in the exercise were all staged in three separate medical tents. Each tent was set up with medical equipment, bandages and IV drips all ready to take in patients that were overflow from the local hospital tents. As the patients came rolling into the tents one after another, each was greeted by an Airman eager to help. As they were helped onto the gurneys, the Airmen asked "What's your name?" and "Do you remember anything about what happened?" Simulating real-world situations some victims yelled out in pain, others became frustrated that they were not being tended to as quickly as they wanted. With every yell and cry an Airman was there to explain what was happening and the status of the patient as they moved forward with their procedures.

"This was the first time they had civilians, special needs, animals and airlift together in one training," said Colonel Nancy Sumner, Commander of the Medical Group for the 146th Airlift Wing. "That has never been done before."

The exercise tested Airmen and civilians responders by including victims with special needs, disabled victims who were wheelchair bound, small children and victims who had animals. Using these types of real-world victims was a challenge, said Sumner, but was essential to the exercise because it gave the responders experience on what to do when there are victims that may require more attention than others. This also created a necessary challenge for the 146th Aircrew on how they would handle transporting and securing wheelchairs, creating proper seating for a toddler victim and handling a large dog on the aircraft.

The exercise culminated with civilian medical staff requesting the Air Force to help transport the overflow patients to other hospitals in another county. After going through the proper protocol and everything was in order, the Airmen got the thumbs up to transport and every patient was prepared to be moved to the flight line. Airmen loaded the patients into the beds of the Humvee's and they were ready to go. After a five-minute drive to the flight line a C-130 and the 146th Aeromedical Crew was standing by. Each patient was carefully loaded onto the plane and secured tightly. As one patient was being escorted onto the plane, an Aeromedical Crew member was walking around explaining to everyone what was going to happen, how the plane works and asking if everyone was okay.

The civilian medical volunteers were impressed with how quickly we were able to triage our patients. They didn't believe us at first when we said we could do 30 people in five minutes," said Sumner. "The exercise was a huge success, and will be used as a benchmark for both civilian and military first responder training."

Sumner also said that being in the medical field in her civilian career and looking at how the civilian medical staff responded and reacted during the training, she was really proud of how the locals really stepped up to the plate.

"They really made it happen," she said. "You know they say they you should be able to trust them with your life. Well, I really do. They were great."