Ottawa Co. first responders train for tragedy

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) – A day after a driver slammed into a crowd in Pennsylvania, killing one and injuring 17, a drill trained first responders in western Michigan for this kind of tragedy if it had to come here.

Dozens of police, firefighters and medical teams participated in the exercise at Grand Valley State University on Sunday afternoon.

Organizers say large-scale emergencies with many injured people can happen anywhere, anytime. That’s why they want first responders to get hands-on training in major emergencies.

Louis Hunt, Director of Emergency Management for Ottawa County, helped organize the training. The goal: to be ready for anything.

“What you saw today was the worst day in public safety ever,” Hunt said.

The organizers said that Pennsylvania incident is a tragic reminder of why disaster preparedness is so important — it can save lives.

“We need to exercise these things,” said Rich Szczepanek, EMS systems administrator for the Ottawa Medical Review Authority. “These are the things that we are going to do when we have – not if – when we have an incident like this. Hopefully we never will. But we have to be prepared.

Mirroring the tragedy in Pennsylvania, the premise of Sunday’s drill was that a driver was hitting people outside the on-campus football stadium. Thirty volunteer actors played the victims hit by the vehicle, calling for help.

It’s a crisis that requires special preparation, with responders dealing with many casualties and quickly determining who needs immediate help.

“They really couldn’t stop at one (person),” Szczepanek said. “It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s something we need to train our staff to do.”

First responders marked victims with different colored ribbons to make it clear who needed help first.

“You triage from immediate patients to patients who are injured, but you can wait a bit,” he said. “You just try to go out there and look at their injuries and assess them. Airways, breathing and circulation. Are they good? »

Szczepanek said Ottawa County first responders are doing a fantastic job, but larger-scale emergencies require a broader approach and thorough preparation.

“Last night in Pennsylvania, where you have a car going through a crowd here, it’s a whole different ball game,” he said. “We have to be able to train on that.”

Organizers called the exercise a success, in part because it revealed room for growth.

“Our measure of success is looking at what are some of those capabilities that we need to improve,” Hunt said.

An example: better communication between the different agencies working together on site.

“You always have some degree of communication issues,” Hunt said. “We actually created a mass casualty incident communication plan just for escalating incidents like this. It’s very new.

The exercise lasted almost a year. Szczepanek said this is the first time Ottawa County has done this. Hunt added that this has been needed for many years.

Organizers hope to do the training every year to prepare more first responders in the region. Szczepanek said there were 400 firefighters in Ottawa County and about 30 to 40 attended Sunday’s training.

“We have more people that we need to train,” he said. “We have to deal with this turnover that we are getting and continue to train. It’s the only way to prepare ourselves. »

Hunt said doing this every year can be a challenge because some departments are already stretched enough, making it difficult to send staff.

Blendon Township Fire Rescue, Allendale Fire Rescue, Grand Valley State Police, Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputies, Grand Haven Township Fire, Olive Township Fire and Holland Fire were among the many emergency responders who participated in the exercise . Numerous ambulance crews from local hospitals were also on the scene.

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