PALMDALE — Imagine a freeway collision between a diesel fuel truck and a school bus full of passengers, leaving dozens of injured people with the further complication of being covered in diesel fuel.
That scenario was the basis for an emergency decontamination exercise Wednesday at Palmdale Regional Medical Center.
The exercise brought together teams from nine hospitals, including Antelope Valley Hospital, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, Valley Presbyterian Hospital, Pacifica Hospital of the Valley, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, Mission Community Hospital and Dignity Health Northridge Hospital.
The exercise with multiple response teams simulates what would happen in the case of an emergency situation with a large number of injured persons, “so we all get to practice with each other in case we have a big event,” said Terry Stone, from Henry Mayo.
The “patients” were played by volunteers from Antelope Valley College’s nursing program.
In all, more than 100 people were involved in the exercise, held in a parking lot at the Palmdale site. This too simulates an emergency situation, in which patients would go through decontamination before being brought inside for treatment.
Emergency teams handling the patients donned hazardous materials suits called personal protective equipment, designed to handle chemical or radiological contaminants, Palmdale Regional Medical Center Disaster Coordinator Evelina Pickett said. The suits include a hood and self-contained air purifiers.
The bulky gear means care must be taken for the emergency personnel, as well, who can easily become overheated or fatigued. Their vital signs were checked prior to and following the exercise.
The exercise placed an additional emphasis on aiding patients with various special needs, such as those in wheelchairs or with otherwise limited mobility or impaired vision.
A special tent was erected to provide a place to clean patients, with special provisions for those unable to walk or stand upright. Patients were lifted from wheelchairs onto a backboard on a table with rollers that ran the length of the tent and stood about waist high to those standing along it. The patient could then be moved along the table, down the rollers, as the emergency personnel cleaned them using brushes, long-handled sponges and spray hoses suspended from the upper edge of the tent sides.
At the far end, they were transferred to clean wheelchairs, so as not to recontaminate them with the hazardous substance.
Half the specialized tent was set up with the roller table, while the other half could be used for those able to stand.
In addition, Palmdale Regional Medical Center’s decontamination trailer was available with two areas for cleaning patients that either walked up the stairs and inside on their own power or were led up a ramp.
The specialized tent was provided by a firm called Deployed Logix, which has distributed the emergency shelters to trauma centers in Los Angeles County.
It is designed to be easy to erect — it’s up in 60 seconds by two people — and provide shelter for treating patients. For decontamination purposes, the raised floor drains away water, eliminating puddles that could endanger personnel, said Angela Chan with Deployed Logix.