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Annual disaster drill tests students first responder skills
disaster drill 1
Members of the LifeStar flight crew and Bryan County Fire and Emergency Services load a student playing a trauma victim onto the helicopter during Richmond Hill High School’s fifth annual disaster drill. All photos by Jeff Whitten.

A disaster was waiting to happen Saturday behind Richmond Hill High School.

It did.

And that was according to plan, as RHHS students, teachers, local first responders and others participated in the school’s fifth annual disaster day drill.

This year’s mock disaster was a carnival that went totally off the rails, according to Bryan County Fire and Emergency Services Lieutenant Victoria Pape. She rattled off a list of ever-more-serious mishaps, from someone who “got burned in a funnel cake grease fire,” to a tent collapse and a roller coaster collapse.

“We had people trampled, people burnt, you name it,” Pape said.

The students who acted as first responders were enrolled in the school’s health care pathway, which gives students an introduction into such career fields as emergency medical responder to physical therapy.

Saturday’s drill, which included about a dozen Bryan County Fire and Emergency Services first responders, at least two from Richmond Hill Fire Department and a LifeStar flight crew, was a graded exercise, according to teacher Mary Jo Fina.

But it also got students from graphic arts and RHHS video production class involved. Kids in the Beta Club, National Honor Society and Beta Club also took part, playing the 30-something victims who were made up to look like casualties.

Logan Duggar, a senior who hopes to become a doctor, was among the rescuers. He handled four injuries himself, and said the drill helped bring things he’d been taught in the classroom into focus.

“It helps you realize what mistakes you’re making on the spot, because you need to know that stuff right then and there, or else someone dies,” Duggar said. “This makes it more realistic.”

Pape said BCES comes in a couple of days a week during the semester to “give them real life scenarios of what may happen.”

“Then we do the disaster drill at the end of the semester, and that gives them a real life perspective on what couple happen,” Pape said. “They have to put all their skills together to treat their patients.”

As part of the drill, one student casualty required airlift to a nearby hospital. On cue, a Life- Star helicopter landed in a marked off area behind RHHS, and the flight paramedic Bruce Cheek and flight nurse David Winette helped students and local first responders load the kid onto a stretcher and rush him to the helicopter, which was piloted by Radley Grubbs, a former Army helicopter pilot.

The drill ended there, and the LifeStar crew stood by to answer questions from students such as Kaylee Gilliland, a junior who wants to work with kids and is weighing a field in either health care or education that will allow her to do both.

She said the disaster day drill “was very eye opening on how emergent it actually is,” Gilliland said.

“When you’re in class, obviously it’s not as real and you think ‘yeah, yeah, you have to be quick and you have to know what you’re doing,’” she said. “But today puts in perspective. You have to get this done because it really is life and death.”

Gilliland, who said the drill was realistic, admitted to some butterflies initially.

“I came into it really nervous this morning, but after doing the assessment I’m a lot more confident,” she said, noting that were she to be the first one to arrive at an accident she’d be able to help as a first responder until paramedics arrived.

Gilliland also had praise for those paramedics and other public safety personnel who lent a helping hand at Saturday’s disaster drill.

“I would trust them with my life, my family’s life, my future."

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