This is only a drill…

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2006

GATES – A diabetic school bus driver suffers a seizure while traveling down the back roads of Gates County.

The sudden drop in her blood sugar sends the driver into insulin shock, causing her to lose control of the vehicle. The bus strikes a ditch bank and flips on its side, causing the young passengers onboard to bounce around like limp rag dolls.

The injuries are multiple, from as simple as bumps and bruises, to fractures, to life-threatening head and body trauma. A few aren’t so lucky…their lives come to an abrupt halt on what was a carefree ride home from school.

While this mishap will hopefully never occur in Gates County, it’s always a good thing to be prepared.

Such was the case here Sunday (March 19) where Gates County emergency personnel rushed to the scene of a mock bus accident in order to gain valuable practice during a drill they hope never becomes a reality.

The drill took place at the Gates Volunteer Fire Department where approximately 35 volunteers took time away from their families on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to train for the worst-case scenario.

To make the bus wreck as life-like as possible, junior members of the county’s emergency response teams played the roles of the students on the bus. They lay injured inside the bus, some covered with fake blood.

Communication was “live” during the drill, complete with mock calls to summon medivac helicopters.

Once the victims were removed from the crash scene, they were taken to a triage area. There, teams of emergency personnel assessed the extent of the injuries and prioritized the victims in the order in which they should be transported to medical facilities.

The drill was so life-like that it included a parent of one of the victims rushing up to the overturned bus in order to inquire about their child’s medical status. That was done in an effort to see how calmly the emergency responders could handle a despondent family member while still performing their live-saving duties.

A mix of Gates County’s fire and rescue volunteers were on the scene, as was the county’s newest addition to its fleet of emergency vehicles n Heavy Rescue.

In January, the Gates County Rescue Squad (GCRS) was certified by the North Carolina Association of Rescue and EMS as a Heavy Rescue unit. That unit n a “rolling tool box” as described by GCRS Chief Billy Winn

– along with GCRS members now certified as Rescue Technicians can effectively answer calls dealing with vehicle extrication, water rescue, high angle rope rescue and other specialty areas.

“This truck and the fact that we now have nine members certified as Rescue Technicians allows us to better serve the citizens of Gates County,” Winn said. “If you really think about it, this is nothing more than what our citizens expect of us in the first place. We saw a need to better educate ourselves in the field of heavy rescue and we put forth the time and effort to do so.”

The truck contains everything needed on heavy rescue calls n from items as simple as a shovel to as complicated as extrication tools.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Winn noted of the truck. “We carry all the items mandated by the state for heavy rescue, but we’ve added a few items of our own. We’re constantly changing things around on the truck to make things flow smoother when we reach the scene of a call.”

The thought process behind adding a heavy rescue unit to GCRS came in the late 1990’s when the squad was taking part in statewide rescue competitions.

“We saw what some of the other rescue squads across the state had and took notes of what they were doing,” Winn recalled. “We came back home and put our heads together and things just went from there.”

The top priority was meeting the state’s minimum requirement of having eight members certified as Rescue Technicians. To date, GCRS has exceeded that minimum by one and, according to Winn, have another 8-10 members who are just a few classes away from completing their certification.

The Heavy Rescue unit, a converted beer truck, was purchased for $1,500. No tax dollars were spent as the majority of the GCRS operating budget comes from donations, fundraisers and through grants.

“With the exception of three full-time employees paid through GCRS, we’re basically all volunteers,” said Eddie Rountree who filled the role of Incident Command during Sunday’s mock drill.

Rountree continued, “We have five fire departments here in Gates County. Some of the volunteer firemen at each of those departments are also members of GCRS, so we intermingle very well. If one unit needs help, there’s always someone from another unit ready and willing to pitch in and offer that assistance.”

Winn said the Heavy Rescue certification provided a big boost in morale among the county’s emergency responders.

“These men and women have worked extremely hard to get to this point,” he noted. “This state certification gives us a sense of pride as we feel we are better prepared to serve the needs of the people of Gates County.”

GCRS is now only the third state-certified Heavy Rescue team in eastern North Carolina. The other certified units are located in Roanoke Rapids and on Hatteras Island.

Meanwhile, Winn is attempting to help other local rescue squads to better prepare themselves to meet the growing needs of a diversified citizen base. Winn, who holds down a full-time job as an art teacher at Gates County High School, uses his nights and weekends to offer Rescue Technician instruction.

GCRS, formed in 1964, currently has a fleet of three EMS units, the Heavy Rescue unit and one Water Rescue unit that are housed in a centralized station at Eason’s Crossroads. It lists a roster of 35 members.