Calif. college students test first responder skills in simulations
300 Butte College students participated in two days of fire and EMS scenarios
By Ed Booth
BUTTE VALLEY, Calif. — Fires and traffic crashes are inevitable; everyone is at some degree of risk of being involved someday.
The question then is whether the people who come to the aid of those involved in such misfortunes are highly trained and competent. If Thursday’s training session at the Butte College Public Safety Training Center was any gauge, the public can be assured of the best possible response from these future emergency personnel.
Approximately 300 Butte College students from the Fire Academy, nursing school, paramedics school and emergency medical technician programs came together for an effective and realistic session, demonstrating their skills during spectacularly pleasant weather conditions on the Butte campus.
It was actually a two-part day, with a bus-vs.-car “accident” that also resulted in a pedestrian getting “run over” during the morning, and a “fire” rescue from a burning three-story building in the afternoon.
All students at the event participated in both sessions.
The “victims” in both sessions were EMT students; each carried a card instructing that person on what to do upon discovery by rescuers, how to act and whether to be communicative at all. There was a medical responder designated as a triage official, determining which victims should receive care most urgently.
“This is designed to simulate an environment in which victims outnumber care providers,” explained Butte College public information officer Christian Gutierrez. “The triage worker judges them by how they look and by their symptoms.”
The “fire” emergency got underway with smoke emanating from the practice structure, with yelling coming from the people inside. Some were also banging on doors as the fire engines arrived with sirens blaring and lights flashing.
Fire Academy students, in full gear, hopped out of their engines and immediately began typical procedures. These included unrolling hose and hooking it up to a water source, locating victims and helping them out of the structure, and turning on a large air circulator to force the smoke out of the building.
Some victims moved easily, while others needed physical support to escape the building; a few firefighters had to carry some immobile victims. They placed them in a large gathering zone for evaluation and treatment, which the nurses performed. Paramedics stood by, ready to “transport” the victims to medical facilities.
Finally, Enloe Health’s FlightCare helicopter arrived, and after two firefighters and two paramedics loaded a gurney-bound “victim” into the helicopter, FlightCare flew that individual away.
Fire Academy students will conclude their coursework in December and will be employable. Students in that program participate in training drills like Thursday’s in the fall and spring.
Nursing students who are in their third semester of study participated Thursday as part of their studies, which wrap up following next spring’s final semester. Their program requires two years of coursework, as does the paramedic training program.
Chris Frazer, an adjunct professor in the Emergency Medical Services Department as well as the Fire Academy, said the exercise was to show students the rigors of dealing with an emergency of this scale.
“The whole point of this is to prepare the different agencies for when they encounter this in their future jobs, so an incident like this isn’t a surprise,” he explained. “We work really, really hard on realism,” using a makeup artist “to make the victims look as real as possible.”
Firefighters and emergency medical responders need to make quick decisions under pressure.
“They have to make decisions on how severe the patient is, whether it’s to get that person on an ambulance right now, or if the person’s possibly dead,” Frazer said. “It’s very much a snap decision in about 20 seconds.”
The event requires enormous planning — so much so, that Frazer said “preparations will begin tomorrow” for the spring drill.
“It takes about a full semester to get approvals from all the agencies,” he said. Those agencies include Butte’s transportation division, for the use of its bus; the print shop, for flyers; FlightCare, and Cal Fire-Butte County, which assists the dispatching and landing of the helicopter.
“It really is a collaboration,” said Frazer, who joined Butte’s faculty in 2018.