National Guard, West Thurston Fire Authority Train Together for Mass Casualty Response

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

When the “big one” hits, local first responders and organizations such as the National Guard will have to work side by side to provide emergency services to residents trapped by fractured highways and other infrastructure along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. 

With that in mind, the West Thurston Regional Fire Authority and the medical division of the National Guard troops based at Camp Murray got together Friday at the RFA’s main station on Littlerock Road to train together to respond to a “mass casualty incident.”

MCIT
Members of the medical division of the National Guard from Camp Murray commence in Mass Casualty Incident training using a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com

“The best thing to do is be prepared for any event because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said RFA Captain Lanette Dyer. 

National Guard Sgt. Chad Choi worked with the RFA to hold the training at the Littlerock Road station because of its training facility and field big enough to land a Blackhawk helicopter. 

MCIT
Volunteers act as injured subjects while working with West Thurston Fire crews and members of the medical division of the National Guard from Camp Murray to commence in Mass Casualty Incident training Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com

“It’s been a passion of mine to do training with firefighters,” he said. “The benefits are limitless, I think.”

National guard crews practiced deploying from a hovering helicopter and evacuating injured patients to demonstrate the abilities to medics.

MCIT
West Thurston Fire crews commence in Mass Casualty Incident training Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com

The scenario for Friday’s training involved a response to a series of earthquakes ranging from 4.9 to 7.7 on the Richter scale affecting the Cascadia Subduction Zone, but Dyer said a mass casualty incident is actually defined as any emergency event that overwhelms local first responders. 

“It’s not the time you want to learn,” Dyer said. 

For a small fire district, that could mean a car crash with multiple victims. Recent examples include the Amtrak train derailment at Interstate 5 in Nisqually in December and the Oso mudslide in 2014. 

MCIT
Members of the medical division of the National Guard from Camp Murray commence in Mass Casualty Incident training using a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com

Volunteers from the RFA and the community wore makeup and prosthetics simulating injuries they might realistically suffer during a massive earthquake. As part of the training, National Guard medics and RFA crews practiced their response to the high number of wounded. 

“It really helps us be prepared,” said Laurey Jones, a community member who volunteered to be a victim in the training. 

MCIT
West Thurston Fire crews and members of the medical division of the National Guard from Camp Murray commence in Mass Casualty Incident training using a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com

Training together helps the organizations learn to speak each other’s languages, representatives from the National Guard and RFA said. 

“If we don’t know their systems and they don’t know our system it can really throw a wrench in the works,” said Chief Scott LaVielle of the Tumwater Fire Department, who also attended the event. 

MCIT
West Thurston Fire crews commence in Mass Casualty Incident training Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com

More than 20 National Guard members and numerous personnel from fire agencies participated. 

National guard medics used the training as part of their recertification requirements.

MCIT
Sgt. Chad Choi of the U.S. Army arranged the Mass Casualty Incident training Friday afternoon at West Thurston Fire Department in Olympia.

Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com