NORTH ADAMS -- A young mother's screams, pleading with doctors to care for her 3-week-old son, could be heard coming from the decontamination room adjacent to the Emergency Department at the North Adams Regional Hospital on Wednesday.
The young mother, seated on a stretcher, shoved the child toward the doctors and nurses attending to her, warning that he was born with pneumonia and that he was in respiratory distress.
The emergency doctors and nurses moved quickly -- as if the child were more than a doll and as if this was more than an emergency drill being held in conjunction with the North Adams Public Safety Department and the North Adams Ambulance Service.
"The reason the hospital doesthese drills is to test the operations of the hospital," Kathy Arabia, a consultant who works with NARH on its emergency preparedness, said Wednesday. "In the event there is an emergency in the community, where victims are coming to the hospital, we want to know the hospital is prepared. The more you practice, the more prepared you are. Each time, you learn new things and you adjust your procedures."
At 2:21 p.m., the hospital went into "Code Red," as staff began receiving reports of a "chemical spill" at Holland Co. in Adams. Members of the North Adams Fire Department arrived outside the Emergency Department to begin setting up the Mass Decontamination Unit, as the first "victims" arrived.
"When people arrive, they'll be arriving
Caitlyn Murphy, who works in the hospital's emergency room, was one of three victims to arrive shortly after the call. Playing the role of a 25-year-old mother, she carried a realistic doll, in the roll of her character's 3-week-old son. The pair was joined by Brian E. Gallagher, a retired hospital employee, who was playing the role of the 57-year-old truck driver who had been loading aluminum sulfate at Holland Co., when his truck's chute failed and spilled chemicals at the site.
The three were brought through a make-shift triage station, where emergency medical technicians assessed their conditions and placed lanyard tags around their necks, indicting their level of need to be cared for -- from high priority to low priority. Having been tagged with the highest priority, the three were then whisked over to the Emergency Department, where Dr. Fred Landes and a staff of nurses decontaminated them with water and assessed their medical needs before shuffling them off in to the emergency room.
Outside, a dozen more victims were arriving, being assessed and directed toward the mobile decontamination unit, where they were instructed to bag their clothing by firefighters dressed in yellow hazmat suits. The victims were then put through the mobile unit -- a tented area where they were sprayed down by a series of hoses connected to the walls -- and then taken into the emergency department by waiting triage nurses.
"We have some new staff here today. ... It's better for them to see something like this as a drill before they experience it for real in the emergency room," Arabia said. "At the end of the day, we'll have a debriefing, which all the victims will be invited to attend so we can learn about the experience from their perspective."
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