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Disaster played out at resort

Christina Proctor

A call comes into the Heavenly Ski Resort administrative offices about an explosion that has rocked the southwest corner of the lodge and left numerous people injured.

No one can call 911 because the phone lines are dead.

Ski patrol, the first responders, are called down from the mountain. For the first 20 minutes they are the only aid on the scene until an employee of Heavenly is able to call 911 with a cellular phone. The call initiates the “Heavenly Command” exercise.

Barton Memorial Hospital – in conjunction with law enforcement, fire departments, ambulance services, the U.S. Forest Service, and Heavenly Ski Resort – participated in a major disaster drill Friday. The agencies have been planning and working on this scenario since June.

The incident happened in real time, but emergency personnel were actually waiting in the lower parking lot. They were allowed on scene based on their estimated response time. U.S. Forest Service employees were on hand to make sure there was no cheating.

All the players had to suspend disbelief for the duration of the incident, and imagine heavy snow with 4 to 6 feet on the ground with winds at 70 to 100 mph. They had to consider that all entries into the South Shore were impassable and no outside help was able to respond.

The incident was scripted, but even with a script, things never go exactly as planned. The explosion was scheduled for 10 a.m. but it came a few minutes later. A Tahoe-Douglas Fire Department unit was waiting to respond in the parking lot, but it never actually got the call from its dispatch.

Terry Fleck, a deputy sheriff with El Dorado County and coordinator of the county’s search and rescue team, was the exercise director for Heavenly Command.

“Realism is always an issue in these drills,” Fleck said. “When Tahoe-Douglas’ dispatch received the request, they assumed, since the personnel were already there, they didn’t need to tone them out. That would never happen in a real emergency.

“The whole drill was a major success,” Fleck added. “It played out just as it should have.”

As each wave of emergency personnel arrived on the scene the injured were quickly found and triaged to immediate, delayed, or minor patients.

The emergency drill fulfills a mandate for Barton in its accreditation process with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Evaluators were on hand at the scene and in the emergency room as the first patients were transported. When the first two patients arrived at the hospital, only the emergency room doctor was on site. The first on-call doctor arrived about five minutes later. At least four doctors and a surgeon were called in for the 30 patients the explosion generated.

Participants said the drill is the time to make mistakes.

“There is always room to learn,” Fleck said. “These types of situations don’t happen every day that’s why it’s so important to train.”


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