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Ohio first responders hone their skills at large-scale NDMS triage exercise

First responders in Cuyahoga County held an NDMS exercise using a plane full of patients


The Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management runs through a National Disaster Medical System exercise at Burke Lakefront Airport.

Joshua Gunter

By Joshua Gunter

CLEVELAND, Ohio— The Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management organized a National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) exercise at Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport Wednesday to give national, state and local first responders the opportunity to practice for a federally declared disaster.

A C-130 Hercules from the Youngstown Air Reserve station roared into Burke Lakefront Airport shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday. As the sun tried to burn through the thick layer of smoke blowing in from burning Canadian wildfires, the plane was guided to a stop on the tarmac. Ambulances waited in a line 100 yards away.

Although empty upon arrival, the C-130 was soon filled with mannequins to represent the injured patients. Making their way onto the tarmac, emergency responders then boarded the plane and carried the mannequins off on stretchers to be assessed. Mannequins were used for the deboarding process in case a stretcher was dropped while exiting the plane.

[RELATED: When disaster strikes in the U.S., the National Disaster Medical System responds]

Once on the ground, volunteer patients were subbed in for the mannequins. First responders decided how to best care for the patients based on a triage tag hanging from their neck. The triage tag provided local first responders with important information such as the patient’s name, vitals and type of injury. Some were taken by ambulance to local hospitals while others were escorted into the airport for medical treatment.

Rob Jastromb, assistant director with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Greater Cleveland, said the primary goal of Wednesday’s exercise was to simulate a federally declared national disaster and public health emergency.

“With the current state of our world, all of the national disasters and public health emergencies that we see on a daily basis, we need to be prepared for that,” he said.

Jastromb served as incident commander for the day.

“We should always err on being more prepared than not prepared,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have the personnel trained and we have the proper collaboration and communication with our partners throughout the city to make sure we’re prepared for that.”

The Cleveland VA is one of 65 Federal Coordinating Centers (FCCs) used to coordinate patient movement from areas affected by disasters when local hospitals exceed capacity or evacuation is necessary.

Local first responders participating in the exercise were:

Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management

Department of Veterans Health Affairs

Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Cleveland Department of Public Safety

Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport

The Center for Health Affairs

National Disaster Medical System participating definitive care hospitals

Local fire/EMS departments

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