Brody students and first responders collaborate in mock disaster

Amid blinking lights, shattering glass and thumping helicopter blades, adrenaline was pumping at the Winterville Fire-Rescue-EMS station April 9 as students from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University joined first responders for a mock disaster exercise.

Approximately 20 first- and second-year medical students were accompanied by an equal number of Winterville rescue personnel and volunteers in the simulated emergency response to a multiple vehicle car crash. Dubbed “Disaster Day” by student organizers, the event proved to be anything but that.

“Today, the name of the game is experience,” said second-year medical student Zach Frabitore, who helped organize the event with other members of Brody’s Emergency Medicine Interest Group. “We get to see what happens at a trauma scene, what happens on the way to the hospital. This gives us a better idea who the other members of the health care team are and what they can do for the patient out in the field.”

Vidant Health’s EastCare helicopter kicked off the event by landing in an adjacent parking lot. Students toured the helicopter and plied flight personnel with questions about the capabilities and challenges inherent in treating patients in the air – in motion – and in a tight space.

Students divided into small groups to practice treating a simulated patient inside an ambulance. They also donned rescue gear and took turns using hydraulic tools to remove windshields, pry off car doors and extricate mannequins from the wreckage.

Throughout the day, the first responders shared pearls of wisdom and spoke frankly with students about ways they could encourage, support and better communicate with the rescue professionals they’ll one day work with.

Brody student DT Nguyen prepares to extract a simulation patient from a wrecked vehicle

Brody student DT Nguyen prepares to extract a simulation patient from a wrecked vehicle

As a former firefighter/paramedic, second-year medical student Wooten Jones was keenly aware how important it is for future emergency medicine physicians to have experiences like “D-Day” and to interact with rescue personnel outside the hospital.

“We’re all on the same team. We all want the same thing. But we bring different pieces to the puzzle, different skill sets. We need to know each other’s capabilities,” Jones said.

“Emergency physicians rely on rescue personnel to be our eyes and ears at the scene,” he continued. “They help predict injuries and provide a clinical sense of what’s going on with the patient. When you realize it takes an hour to get this person out of a car, it helps complete the dialogue. We need to make first responders feel like valued members of the team. None of us are as smart as all of us.”

Jones added that the chance to get out of the classroom and “get our hands on some hydraulic tools and chop up a car” was a “bucket list item for a lot of these students.”

Second-year student Kaitlyn Mosteller said she’d never seen inside an ambulance prior to “D-Day.”

“Today has been a truly incredible experience,” she said, short-of-breath from wielding a heavy extrication tool. “I am so respectful and thankful for what paramedics and other rescue personnel do before the patient arrives at the hospital. We want to know more about what they do because it’s so crucial to patient care.

“This experience allows us to begin to understand the struggles they face in the field,” she added. “I would have never known how much strategy goes into extricating a patient from a car.”

Winterville Fire-Rescue-EMS Assistant Chief Chris Rayner said, “It was important for us to participate in this exercise because I feel like the general public – and many medical staff at the hospital – don’t get to see what kinds of challenges we face out on the highway.

“Giving the students this experience, putting their hands on the tools, gives these guys a better understanding of that,” Rayner said. “Hopefully in the long run, it means better medical residents for our hospital.”

Following the simulated emergency response at the mock trauma scene, the patient mannequins were transported back to Brody, where a simulated emergency department was set up for students to continue “treatment” – courtesy of faculty and staff from the ECU Brody School of Medicine Interprofessional Simulation Program.

In addition to Frabitore, Jones and Mosteller, organizers for the event included medical students Dakota Johnson, Hetal Patel, Kyle Purrman and Zach Williams.

Frabitore said the group hopes to host similar events annually and expand them to include other disciplines.

Assistant Chief Rayner said when that happens, Winterville Fire-Rescue-EMS staff look forward to being first on the scene.

Brody School of Medicine students ask questions of Vidant Health’s EastCare transport paramedic Andrew Owens.

Brody School of Medicine students ask questions of Vidant Health’s EastCare transport paramedic Andrew Owens.