News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 13, 2012

Emergency preparedness

Mock plane crash brings realism of emergency to rescue units, students

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Rescue workers scrambled to a nearby field, as sirens roared and fire trucks sprayed water around the scene of a simulated plane crash site Thursday at the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.

“Victims” had burns, bloody faces and screamed for assistance as part of the mock exercise.

One woman ripped apart a white plastic cover placed over her “deceased” five-year old son, holding the child in her arms. That child was a mannequin and the mother is Sheila Rice of Terre Haute, a paramedic student at Ivy Tech Community College.

“I just kinda went with my role,” Rice said. “If I was the mother, I don’t want him wrapped. I don’t want to accept that he is dying or that he is dead and that no one is going to do anything for him. No mother wants to ever accept that.

“I am actually pregnant, and then doing this, I realize this is the kind of thing that can happen. It was crazy. I thought I would be OK, but the more I got into my role, I was like, oh my gosh, what if,” she said.

Dale Ann O’Neal, an ISU retired professor of nursing, said Rice’s role “was not scripted.”

“Yeah, I got into it a little too much,” Rice said.

O’Neal said with grief responses, it is important for a victim to see the body, rather than just take it away someplace, she said. “It helps to be able to have that final contact, to hold and say good-bye,” O’Neal said.  

Rice said the exercise “is a very good learning experience and getting past your own personal irritants with everything is what you need...because there is nothing more important than going out and helping people. That is the main reason I am going into this profession.”

The exercise included about 81 participants, including a dozen students in Indiana State University’s nursing program, 14 students from Ivy Tech Community College’s paramedic program, about a dozen participants from the Indiana Air National Guard 181st Intelligence Wing, plus participants from Rural Health Innovation Collaborative (RHIC) Simulation Center, Indiana Homeland Security’s Task Force 7 Mass Casualty Unit, the Terre Haute International Airport and Lifeline Helicopter.

Two Airport Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) units first roared down the airport’s main runway, spraying water over “debris”, before racing to another site near the airport’s hanger and spraying more water near a field with “victims” — portrayed by students and family members — sprawled out.

Brittany Heiser of Fort Wayne, an ISU physician’s assistant master’s degree student, looked like a bloody burned mess, with her face encased in blackened dried blood and her back sporting a big wound.

“Well my face was made up and there are bones sticking out of my back, so I got into the role pretending that my job was modeling on TV. So I said, ‘oh my gosh, does my face look bad?’ I just made up something,” Heiser said, who also pretended to weep while rescue workers placed bandages on her “wounds.”

“I think this exercise make [responders] realize that this is how patients will be in a real disaster. They will be hysterical, you can’t find your family, you look bad, everything hurts and you are in shock,” Heiser said.

“It is different to play the role of a patient, but you see how other providers would treat you,” Heiser said. “It is decision making and you got to do it.”

That’s exactly was Dr. Dorene Hojnicki, director of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency and a member of Task Force 7, emphasized to two students as they attempted to diagnose a patient.

Hojnicki, a former emergency room physician, told them to do a 60-second survey, then go through the “A, B, C and D and E” of diagnosis, asking them fast questions about the Glasgow Coma Scale, used to determine the conscious state of a person.

“Access and make a decision,” she told the students as others yelled and screamed in the mock exercise.

Brandi Fritsche of Martinsville, a senior in nursing at ISU, said the exercise “was pretty chaotic. I didn’t realize the true responsibilities and roles of a nurse during a disaster. I just tried to go to the patients in the more acute stages, who need to be treated as soon as possible and tried to stabilize them,” Fritsche said.

“With limited supplies, we were pretending on a lot of things,” she said. Fritsche said there is also a four-page form on each patient, on what treatment has been done. “That took the most time,” she said, “which is a little much. I feel like they can do that at the hospital.

“The hardest part about this and what I learned is that you have to stay focused. You will always have somebody screaming for help, but you have to stay focused on your patient at that time, and then move on once you have them stabilized,” Fritsche said.

Terri Moore, also a master’s nursing student at ISU, “this exercise is amazingly wonderful. I learned how overwhelming a plane crash would be. We are not prepared unless you practice being prepared and this was a perfect illustration of that,” Moore said.

First Lt. Nicole S. Hall, an instructor for the drill with the Indiana Air National Guard and a family nurse practitioner in Clinton, said the mock exercise helped military medic and nurses go through casualty procedures. The mock crash had three fatalities — a child and two military personnel.

“This [exercise] helps [the medics] determine who they have to deal with first and get them used to the anxiety and how they deal with it, so when a real world situation comes they will have a little bit more knowledge to draw on,” Hall said.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or