NJ EMS conference shows task force abilities

The conference was designed to show what the NJ EMS Task Force can do to help in planning for and responding to natural and man-made disasters


SECAUCUS, N.J. — More than 350 people attended the 2nd Annual New Jersey EMS Task Force Emergency Preparedness Conference and experienced a day of informational classes and a massive display of EMS apparatus, supplies and demonstrations.

“This is the biggest event we’ve ever had,” said Mickey McCabe, one of the founding members of the New Jersey EMS Task Force.

“We’re not just mutual aid ambulances,” said Task Force leader Michael Bascom. “We’re highly equipped, specially trained resources.”

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The 2nd Annual New Jersey EMS Task Force Emergency Preparedness Conference was designed to show those in the healthcare provider, long-term care and first responder communities what the NJ EMS Task Force can do to help in planning for and responding to natural and man-made disasters as well as pre-planned events.

The NJ EMS Task Force was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and consists of 300 members across the state and covers 62 local agencies. The NJEMSTF has been integral in the EMS response to Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, wildfires, nursing home evacuations and for such pre-planned events as the Super Bowl and the Bamboozle concert.

Cathleen Bennett, Acting Commissioner of the NJ Department of Health, pointed out that behind the scenes, the NJEMSTF is constantly creating response plans for threats throughout the state, and some of that she experienced first-hand with the organization’s work for the visit of Pope Francis in September.

“The Task Force, quite frankly, is all about individuals coming together for a great team effort,” said Christopher Rinn, assistant commissioner of the NJ Department of Health. “You have never let us down, no matter what the call is, no matter what the situation.”

The event included classes on such topics as responding to an active shooter and developing a rescue task force, a history of combat medicine and how to translate it to the everyday responses, hospital and healthcare facility evacuations and the response to the Amtrak train derailment.

Sgt. Adam Hartswick of the United States Army, who lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while helping wounded soldiers in Afghanistan, shared with a packed room of first responders and healthcare staffers how he instructed a platoon leader how to use tourniquets to save his life on the battlefield. Hartswick’s session included dramatic footage of the rescue mission to save him and others, which had never before been shown to the public.

“I’m here to share what we’ve learned the hard way in American blood,” Rush said.

Rush urged attendees to master the basics “through repetition of process.” He also said the culture of the first responder needed to include physical fitness. Carrying one patient is tough, but over the course of an MCI, responders would have to carry multiple patients.

“If you don’t train for it, there’s no way you’re going to do it without being hurt,” Rush said.

Dr. Smith, an MD, FACEP with the Arlington County Fire Department, discussed with attendees the differences between battlefield tactics and how to translate them to street medicine, specifically with tactical teams in active shooter situations. He also stressed providing public access trauma kits, because the first people on the scene can be critical to the survival rate at an MCI or active shooter.

“To improve survival, you have to look at all the gaps,” Smith said. “Better coordination. Better tactics. Better medicine.”

Many of the assets on hand were used during the NJEMSTF’s response to Superstorm Sandy, which is widely considered one of the largest disasters in New Jersey history. The NJEMSTF provided equipment and staff around the clock for two weeks after the storm devastated portions of the shoreline.

“I can’t even imagine what the state would be like without the Task Force in hurricane Sandy,” said John Grembowiec, chairman of the NJEMSF. “I would challenge anyone to say we haven’t used our grant funds wisely.”

McCabe took a moment to praise the women and men who volunteer for the Task Force.

“They are the best kept secret,” McCabe told attendees, “and they’re only a phone call away.”

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