Column: Practice makes perfect for FT fire department

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Messenger photos by Whitney Wilson Coy

Dillman plays her part as a “victim” while Franklin Township firefighter David McGee evaluates her condition.

Linda Dillman, Columbus Messenger staff writer, helps prepare for the staged “shooting” by applying makeup to a “victim,” Michael Begin, a medic with the 285th National Guard.

It is no fun being in an accident and emergency response is not a humorous topic for firefighters and emergency room doctors.

However, when you are sitting in a room with other accident “victims,” who just happen to be volunteers waiting to have a fake laceration or broken limb applied to a part of their body, it is okay to crack a smile or laugh at the fake blood smeared across someone’s shirt.

The Ohio Army National Guard armory on Columbus’ Westside served as the stage on Aug. 22 for a crisis scenario involving a shooter and victims—at various levels of injury from merely traumatized to murdered—at a post office.

My part in the event? Get an insider’s look at what it takes for first responders to assess a triage situation before transporting victims for further care. Was it a difficult assignment? No. I am a ham at heart and was a member of a military theatre group when I lived in Japan. You can take the greasepaint off the face, but you can never get it out of the soul.

It was a chance to indulge my love of drama, even if it was only for 10 to 15 minutes on a concrete basketball court sitting inside a Humvee, while moaning in pseudo agony from my “injury.”

The 7:15 a.m. make-up call was held inside a meeting room/kitchen at the armory. When I arrived, Franklin Township Fire Department Lt. Paul Burleigh and Doctor’s Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Robert Lowe were already at work transforming the uninjured into victims of a shooter’s rampage.

Burleigh is a kindred thespian and also served as a coordinator for the exercise. Lowe is not only the department’s EMS director, he is also pretty crafty at creating special effects with fake latex gunshot wounds, congealed stage blood, and spirit gum.

I marveled at the Ben Nye professional make-up kit used by the department in creating wounds. It was a lot more sophisticated than what I used 18 years ago – and to think it was a kit marketed specifically for emergency responders, who conduct the disaster drills as part of their training regime.

Lowe flipped through a stack of cards and gave me an injury with the bone of my forearm piercing the skin as a result of diving under a table during the shooting. A little dab of spirit gum, a rather realistic latex wound, a few squirts of sticky red stage blood, and I was ready for the spotlights. I could have really given it my all with a gunshot wound and severe loss of blood, but this was a triage exercise—the first stage in assessing injuries in a crisis situation.

Since I had previous stage experience, and was itching to try out all of the new make-up products, I helped apply a few of the wounds before joining the rest of the volunteers—which included fire department personnel, guard soldiers, and family members—for last minute instructions from Burleigh. We then headed to our assigned areas and I sat down in the Humvee with a soldier who volunteered as an actor pretending to suffer from a seizure. He played a key role in signaling the start of the exercise by laying his head on the horn.

Other “victims” were strategically placed on the floor, behind other vehicles, hidden in restrooms (Latrines in military speak), and scattered in the mock post office.

Those coherent enough to be aware, moaned, groaned, screamed, and cried out as emergency workers entered the armory. I am sure there were more than a few drivers on Sullivant Avenue wondering what was happening at the military complex as squads and engines circled the building.

Within 10-15 minutes everyone was triaged according to their injuries, tagged, and the walking wounded escorted to a “safe” place, which was the floor of the basketball court.

My injury only warranted a yellow tag, which meant I was not in danger of dying from my wounds and did not need immediate attention. When it was all over, we reset the scene and waited for another emergency crew to enter the building.

I felt sorry for the actor at the side of the Humvee; he probably suffered temporary hearing loss because the horn did not stop blaring until rescue workers pulled the driver away from the steering wheel.

Although you could see stifled laughs and comments from the volunteer victims after it was over, the emergency crews from Franklin Township took the situation seriously and responded accordingly when given word a gunman at a post office shot multiple victims before taking his own life.

Overall, everyone appeared to keep in character during the exercise, even two little kids huddled around their mother who just happened to be in the armory when Burleigh was looking for more victims (actors).

Before the first responders began their de-briefing, we were excused to yank the fake wounds off our bodies and wash the sticky faux blood down the sink. I knew spirit gum (used to attach the latex wounds) was not easy to get off…I just forgot how much it stings to rip off the skin and take hundreds of hairs along with it.

It was great to be back on the stage again, even if it was a concrete floor in a dimly lit armory on the Westside of Columbus.

Linda Dillman is a staff writer for the Columbus Messenger Newspapers.

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