Rescue workers learn the drill
By Jessie Halladay
October 14, 2007
As dusk began to fall, two men hobbled from the rubble of the old Philip Morris plant at 18th Street and Broadway calling for help. In front of them, two men lay bleeding on the ground, writhing in pain.
Cautiously, firefighters from Louisville Fire & Rescue began to approach as victims yelled at them to hurry up.
As real as it seemed, with patients screaming in pain and begging for help, it was only a drill designed to prepare for mass-casualty emergencies.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” said Maj. Tony Cipolla, a leader with the Metro Search and Rescue task force. “This is what all along we’ve been building to.”
The owners of the property, The Mardrian Group, allowed the simulation to take place there as they are preparing the site for demolition. Eventually, the land will be used to develop housing and retail space.
For more than three years, the search-rescue team has been in development — from writing a federal grant to pay for the equipment and training to actually training firefighters and EMS for the team.
Tonight’s exercise — dubbed Operation Jericho — was the first on a large scale, incorporating a variety of skills including structural collapse rescue, debris removal, high-angle rescue and confined-space rescue. The simulation was expected to continue until about 7 tomorrow morning.
Simultaneously, medical personnel were able to practice handling large numbers of casualties and varying degrees of injury. Medical teams deployed a field hospital tent recently acquired by the city to handle patients that require treatment at a site.
The drill offered a chance for EMS and hospital employees to test their skills under lifelike conditions, said Dr. Neal Richmond, director of EMS, who was at the scene.
“It changes the whole tenor of being in a classroom,” Richmond said. “It immediately creates that perception of ‘pretty real.’ And it makes people really test their skills.”
Over the past year and a half, nearly 150 people have been trained in special tactics to qualify them for the search-rescue team, Cipolla said. About 60 of them participated in last night’s drill.
The team is designed to respond to emergencies, whether they be construction accidents or terrorist attacks, both in Louisville and around the state and the region.
In the drill, which took more than 140 people to carry out, emergency responders were told that there had been a gas explosion at a construction site that caused a collapse. In all, there would be about 30 “sick” people to treat.
In addition, nine mannequins were placed inside the building to simulate people trapped by debris.
The exercise cost about $60,000 in federal grant money.