Mock Disasters Sharpen The Skills Of Rescue Workers

Posted: October 01, 1987

Seven fire rescue workers buzzed around the bashed-up Chevrolet Impala, working frantically and carefully to free the driver.

Larry Antonacci, wrapped in bandages, his head and neck in a brace, opened his eyes occasionally to watch the activity, but kept quiet and still.

Finally, after tearing the roof, doors and dash off the Impala, rescuers lifted Antonacci onto a stretcher an hour after the five-car accident Sunday morning. As they wheeled him to triage, Second Alarmers ambulance personnel yelled out his injuries to the triage official - "open chest wound, multiple fractures, spinal injury."

Antonacci hopped off the stretcher as soon as it stopped and stretched.

"They did good," he said. "They knew what they were doing."

"You made a helluva recovery there," Jules Bauer of the McKinley Fire Company said, joking. "Aren't you still supposed to be unconscious?"

Somebody slapped a "transported" sticker on Antonacci's chest and sent him over to makeup to get ready for another accident.

The joking and faked injury were part of a disaster drill Sunday in Glenside involving Abington's fire companies, rescue units from Wyndmoor Fire Company, Fort Washington Fire Company, Ogontz Fire Company, Cheltenham Fire Company and ambulance personnel from Second Alarmers and Cheltenham Emergency Services. Weldon Fire Company hosted the two drills, a five-car crash and a school bus-automobile accident.

"In many cases, an incident of this magnitude will be beyond the scope of a single response organization," said Weldon Fire Chief Kenneth Clark. "It is imperative that the various organizations in the area be prepared to work together."

Consultants G & R Associates helped stage the accidents in SPS Technologies' parking lot and company officials watched how the organizations worked together. Robert Williams, who runs the consulting business with his wife, Gretchen, said each company would receive a report on its strengths and weaknesses.

The trick to making a drill work is to make it as realistic as possible, said Robert Williams.

Gretchen Williams was doing a good job of that Sunday with her gory makeup techniques.

"I think this is cherry-pie filling," said Antonacci, pointing to his arm that seemed to ooze blood. "And that's a piece of veal on my knee."

Antonacci's knee looked like it had been ripped open, with bloody flesh hanging from it.

"My mother told me never to stick anything in my ear but my elbow and this lady is sticking a stick with red junk in it," joked Richard Rowley of the Roslyn Fire Company. Rowley was being touched up for the second drill.

"Am I unconscious this time?" Rowley asked Gretchen Williams.

The make-believe victims climbed into the bus, tipped on its side and balanced precariously on the crushed hood of a compact car. Gretchen Williams began instructing the victims on their injuries and mental state as she poured fake blood over them. Three of them could walk out, the other seven would be unconscious.

The instructor moved over to the car. The driver, a dummy, was lying partially on the hood after going through the windshield. The passenger in the front seat had no visible wounds, but the man was playing unconscious. The two blond children in the back had gashes on their legs.

"You all right there, buddy?" Gretchen Williams asked as she positioned her son Philip, 6, across the back seat.

"He does great," she said of the boy. "He'll lie there even when they open the door with the Jaws of Life. He's been exposed to this since he was 2."

Gretchen Williams wasn't so sure about her 5-year-old daughter. "Sharon, you cooperate when they come to take you out," she said. "Don't fight them. Understand?"

Gretchen Williams moved away from the car and her husband signaled to the fire chief in charge. The call went out at 11:10 a.m. and rescue personnel swarmed to the bus.

"It's real now," said Robert Williams, viewing the accident scene. ''People are starting to get tired from the first accident and the heat is getting to them. I told the chief I don't really know what's in that bus. It's supposed to be empty. You have to be prepared for anything."

Firefighters pointed their hoses toward the accident as rescue teams moved to stabilize the bus with air bags and blocks of wood.

Within minutes, the Ogontz rescue team moved to the front of the bus and began prying the windshield off; Wyndmoor's crew climbed on top with rope to secure the vehicle, and Weldon and Second Alarmers climbed in the back window of the bus to assist victims. Cheltenham ambulance personnel began helping victims in the car.

Sharon was out first, followed by her brother. "He's got an injured leg, too," she told triage workers as they bandaged her brother's arm.

Removing victims from the bus was not as easy. Rescuers had to cut through two layers of metal in the roof to get to the last, most seriously injured, victims.

It was all over at 12:13 p.m.

"Most people were out within the 'golden hour,' " said Robert Konig of the Second Alarmers. "Trauma patients have the best chance of living if they get treatment within that first hour."

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