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Mass. university EMS MCI drill helps students sharpen skills

UMass Lowell EMS and PrideStar Trinity EMS held a large exercise at Tsongas Center


UMASS Lowell EMS/Facebook

By Aaron Curtis
The Sun

LOWELL, Mass. — The sound of a massive crowd sent into chaos echoed through the halls of the Tsongas Center on Thursday night as members of UMass Lowell EMS rushed toward the arena, the source of the uproar.

Before we go further, it’s important to note this was only a drill.

It was part of a large-scale training exercise held at the Tsongas Center to allow UMass Lowell EMS to sharpen their emergency-response skills in the case of a “mass casualty incident,” or MCI.

UMass Lowell EMS is primarily staffed with university students who have received the proper training. David Muse, the assistant director of Emergency Management at UMass Lowell, said they are integrated with PrideStar Trinity EMS and other partners to respond to medical emergencies on campus.

“We consistently evaluate and enhance our emergency response protocols to ensure we are well-prepared for any situation,” Muse said.

Muse explained the fictional disaster drawn up for Thursday night’s training drill was a suspected explosion at the arena caused by “faulty pyrotechnics.” The scenario also included a partial building collapse.

“It allowed us to exercise burn injuries, bleeding, tourniquet application, things like that,” Muse said as preparations for the training exercise were wrapping up.

Going into the drill, Muse pointed out that UMass Lowell EMS members had no idea what sort of disaster scenario they would be responding to.

In order to create an MCI training drill, you need people to play the part of the disaster victims. There were plenty of them on hand on Thursday night, composed of members of Boy Scout organizations, and the UMass Lowell community.

To make the fictional scenario further mimic real life, the volunteers were decorated with fake blood, burns and gashes, which one would expect to see in a low-budget horror movie. The volunteers were briefed and each presented with a laminated card that provided the name, age, and the sort of injuries, mental states, and vital signs they would act out when EMS responded to them during the drill.

As for the aforementioned sounds of a crowd sent into chaos blaring inside the Tsongas Center, Muse explained that was some sound effects he found on YouTube, which were played over the arena’s sound system.

“We’re going to be doing some special effects, piping in crowd noises, fire alarm activation,” Muse said before the training began. “Just to get their blood pressure pumping a little bit.”

During the drill, the roughly 25 EMS members were split up into three groups, including EMS command, which was set up outside the Tsongas Center despite the relentless rainfall on Thursday night. There was also a treatment area in the building’s lobby, and a triage area organized within the arena.

EMS members rushed into action when the drill began with a call over the radio at the command station.

The “wounded victims” were scattered on the arena floor and situated in the stands. During the drill, a few of the volunteers showed off award-winning-caliber acting performances, highlighted by howling in pain, writhing on the ground, or calling out for missing loved ones. A pair of volunteers even acted as if they had gotten into a verbal argument and needed to be separated by EMS.

EMS members diagnosed patients, and established and executed plans to extract the injured from the arena. Some of the injured could be walked out, while others were carried out on backboards.

Leah Cahill, the outreach coordinator for the UMass Lowell EMS program, and Joseph Mendes, assistant manager of the program, floated around during the drills, documenting the students’ efforts with cameras.

The groups were also observed by exercise controllers and evaluators, which Muse said were made up of a variety of emergency management and public safety professionals from across Massachusetts.

“This included emergency managers from other colleges and universities, local fire and EMS chiefs, and UMass Lowell staff,” Muse said. “We were also fortunate to have alumni from the UMass Lowell EMS program who have gone on to serve as EMS providers and firefighters who returned to assist in the exercise.”

A total of three drills were carried out, with each EMS group rotating their duties. After completing the drills, they would talk through the work they conducted.

“The UMass Lowell student EMS program provides significant value not just to those campus community members receiving treatment, but to the students themselves, and Greater Lowell community,” Muse said afterward. “We look forward to continuing to grow and evolve the program.”

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