I was recently guilt-tripped into participating in a haz-mat mass casualty training drill with a multitude of agencies spanning state borders. If you've been paying attention, you'll remember that I only work out of the North station, not the South station that would actually be involved in this incident, so I'm pretty much fish-out-of-water to begin with, then we're going to add the complexity of having no idea what is going on, trying to work on communication channels we never use and being told I may be asked to take patients to two hospitals further south which I've never been to and don't know how to get to. The longer I stood at the briefing, the more convinced I was that this was a terrible idea and likely to result in a lost ambulance circling the city. But what the heck, grin and bear it, right? Nothing like 5 members of the "management team", known as white-shirts for their uniforms, participating in an activity to make sure it goes all kinds of crazy.
After hanging around a fire station for more than an hour while some of our "patients" were made up to look horrible, buses took them away and we commenced "normal daily activities". In this case, we all stood around outside the fire station waiting to hop into the ambulances and head out - just like every day, right ambulance folks? Off we go in a convoy lead by several trucks of white shirts (including 2 in a wheelchair van - clearly a first response vehicle!), no lights and sirens, trucking down the highway to the mall. We check in and resume standing around doing nothing. Move the ambulance 400 feet closer to the mall, resume doing nothing.
Then, a "patient" I recognize from earlier is walked over to the ambulance area with quite some commotion. She's soaking wet (from the decontamination shower), shivering and more than a little freaked out. The half of a story we hear is that when she was being extricated from the scene, she was backboarded, then dropped. A white shirt is busy yapping at her after sitting her on the bumper of my truck, discussing how this is "a little too real now" and basically not accomplishing anything. I finally get around him far enough to get the poor girl a blanket, then suggest that it would make more sense to put her inside the ambulance where it is light and warm. Then we find out that she has chest pain and a congenital heart condition making chest pain a real symptom and not a panic attack.
I'm sure you can guess what happens next, a giant clusterfuck. My paramedic and I are talking with the patient, then his ex-girlfriend who just happens to be in a BLS truck from another company at the same drill hops in to help. What?!? Whatever. I finally have to get out of the ambulance and try and protect the damn doors because every 3 seconds some other white shirt or random person is opening the doors. Very difficult to provide good patient care, including a 12-lead EKG, and keep it warm in the ambulance with all this going on. Next comes the fun of explaining to each white shirt, individually, why it is not appropriate to send this patient with the BLS crew and why it is stupid to wait for a transfer truck that hasn't even been dispatched yet to get here before we leave. Finally, everyone's close to agreement, so honestly, I just went.
After a thankfully uneventful transfer, we arrive at a hospital which is expecting "patients" from this drill, not an actual patient from the drill and there is several moments of confusion trying to get everyone to understand that although we brought her from the drill and she has the stage makeup on, this one is for real. We finish up and head back to the mall, relieve the transfer truck and resume doing nothing. Eventually, we get a "patient" just before they decide to stop dousing volunteers with cold water in 40 degree weather and cancel the rest of the drill.
I have to say that the only part of the drill that in any way resembled what I believe would happen at a real incident was the hysteria and confusion over our real patient. The ambulances, wheel chair vans, city buses, and haz-mat trailers all arriving immediately with appropriate staff is pretty much a joke.