Testing Emergency Response with B.E.R.T.
There was a fatal traffic accident at the busy intersection of Princess Margaret Drive and Saint Joseph Street this morning, right next door to Social Security Board and the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. One man died on scene and at least seven others were injured. But none of it was real – though it obviously could have been. Over the years, we have covered multiple incidents just like this one, simulated by the various emergency response agencies to remind Belizeans of just how serious these kinds of accidents can be, and the work and sacrifice they put in to ensure safety for all. Today, Belize Emergency Response Team took the lead and News Five’s Aaron Humes reports on their efforts.
Upon arriving at the accident scene, we observed that most of the victims had already been removed from the two collided vehicles. However, one, apparently motionless, was trapped inside his vehicle and needed the “Jaws of Life” of the National Fire Service to get him out. Fortunately, this was only a test – for emergency medical technicians of the Belize Emergency Response Team (B.E.R.T.) and other emergency responders to review their response capacity for what are referred to as “mass casualties.”
Andre Carillo, National Coordinator, B.E.R.T.
“We have a lot of footage today – both from the media, and we were also taking footage. So what we will do, we will go back to the office and study the information that we have; we will look at our weaknesses to be able to continue to develop and strengthen E.M.S.”
“So for the number of people who were injured in the accident, you had the required amount of response personnel?”
“Yes, we did, and this highlights the need for an organization like B.E.R.T., because we do have the resources, we do have the equipment, we do have the manpower to respond to an RTA like this; this is what is considered as a mass casualty because it puts a strain on our resources, but even though it puts a strain on our resources, we were able to respond.”
In the scenario imagined by the planners of the exercise, according to B.E.R.T.’s chief of training Javier Canul, a driver distracted by his cell phone caused a massive collision which forced the first responders to request back up. But Canul pronounced himself reasonably satisfied with the time it took to get the patients out and stabilized for the trip to the K.H.M.H. nearby, as well as other aspects of the operation.
Javier Canul, Training Coordinator, B.E.R.T.
“From the moment we get the call, and up to the point when the ambulance reacts, when the first two medics got on scene they realized, ‘Oh, this is bigger than we can handle,’ they then called for additional help and more ambulances came and the ball started to get into play and more in progress. And as an E.M.T., our job is to make sure that we can do everything that is possible to save life, to get them alive to the hospital, and we must do everything that we can do, within our scope of practice, to make sure they get to the hospital alive, and that is what the general concept of an E.M.T. is for a road traffic accident. And so for a mass casualty, normally, yes – twenty minutes from the time the last patient was cut, the last patient was removed alive and he had to be cut out and taken out. Normally, as a general rule we say that there is a ten minute ‘golden rule’ that we have to play with this patient in order to get them out of the accident. And so for us the twenty minutes was a goal; the thirty minutes additional for taking out the [other] patient had nothing to do with us, it’s just the Police and the Fire Department to get them out, so for us twenty minutes for eight patients – that was very good.”
“So you are satisfied with the technicians’ performance out here today, the B.E.R.T. response in this simulation.”
“Generally yes, I am sure there are some glitches that we could iron out, but all in all, yes, we’re happy with their performance, everybody knew what they were supposed to have done. Minor little glitches that we can work out, I am sure that we could work it out, but I am happy with their performance.”
That will not preclude a closer look during the debriefing process later. But while B.E.R.T. and the Fire Service were in the middle of the action, Police from Precinct Three and the City Council Traffic Department kept order, blocking off the main entrances and exits from St. Thomas Street all the way around to right in front of Channel Five’s offices on Coney Drive. City Councilor in charge of Emergency Management, Philip Willoughby, gave them their kudos.
Philip Willoughby, C.E.M.O.
“I believe the Traffic Department was the first agency out here, coordinating and dealing with the flow of traffic. Shortly after I believe the Police came on the scene followed by the Fire Department. I was briefed by the Fire Chief that they were dealing with a fire, so you could imagine we are dealing with an anomaly and they being the first responders to that primary event, then shifting over to becoming a secondary event and this becoming the primary focus of the Department, I think they juggled it quite well within the time frame. And it’s always about the response – I think that is what agencies are heavily criticized on; the time and the response and the manner in which they respond, the confidence and poise that they execute their duties; we’re getting there.”
That kind of multi-agency approach is what Canul says the exercise is all about.
“It’s a multiple agency simulation, where everybody takes part and everybody comes together and work as a team. If you notice, the police came and stopped traffic – we couldn’t do that on our own. Then the traffic wardens came along and assisted police; then the medics got there, started assessing the patient, made sure they got what they needed to keep them alive, then the Fire Department – when the guy was trapped, we couldn’t take him out, so the Fire Department came in and did what they had to do until we could get them out – so everybody had an active role to play and that’s what makes this interesting. This is how we should work all the time.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
The area was cleared just around ten-thirty but it had been blocked off since earlier in the morning.