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Manchester emergency workers run drill with mock chopper crash

City emergency workers brace for reality at mock chopper crash

Staff Report
May 31. 2014 7:44PM
Volunteer Meredith Poplar, left, sports a serious "wound" to her leg during Catholic Medical Center's emergency disaster drill, coordinated with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team's helicopter (DHART), which simulated a crash on the roof of the hospital Saturday in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Lisa Smith-Brunelle, a CMC nurse, plays an injured person during Catholic Medical Center's emergency disaster drill Saturday in Manchester. Thomas Roy/Union Leader

MANCHESTER - A disaster preparedness drill at Catholic Medical Center was realistic enough to frighten organizers during moments of a mock helicopter crash on the hospital's rooftop landing pad Saturday.

Manchester firefighters and EMTs take a "victim" from Truck 1 during Catholic Medical Center's emergency disaster drill Saturday in Manchester. Thomas Roy/Union Leader

While there is no way to replicate the chaos of an actual disaster, the events at CMC seemed authentic enough as police, firefighters and hospital staff were on full alert all morning.

"It was all hands on deck," said Lu Mulla, CMC vice president of operations/emergency services.

RN Jonathan Harvey plays a soldier with PTSD as CMC Hospitalist Martin Johns, right, assesses him during Catholic Medical Center's emergency disaster drill coordinated with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team's helicopter (DHART) Saturday in Manchester. Thomas Roy/Union Leader

Volunteers and staff portrayed victims with an assortment of injuries, which were bolstered in appearance with makeup.

Firefighters carried dummies down the Manchester Fire Department truck ladders, which were long enough to reach the rooftop landing pad. CMC officials said it is the only elevated landing area in the state and makes the Manchester hospital a primary receiving center for critical care.

Mulla said the helipad de-icing system struggled at times through the cold stretches of winter, which generated the basis for CMC's next training drill.

Initially, the idea was to see if the ladders were high enough to reach if anybody was stranded. The ladders reached, but the drill had grown a lot more complex during a planning process.

Mulla said there were also a few "injects" - surprise changes sprung on the staff that forced them to adjust on the fly and address new issues while continuing to keep up with everything brought on by the helipad "crash."

The surprises included a pregnant woman who went into labor after viewing the crash and a PTSD patient who stormed through the emergency department shouting about shellshock and asking for his fellow soldiers.

"He really put on quite a good performance," Mulla said. "We wanted to see how security would react and also what the rest of the emergency staff would do."

One surprise that caught even Mulla off-guard was the helicopter pilot putting on a performance during his approach, weaving through the air like he really was about to crash, before safely touching down in a routine landing. The hospital did not shut down during the drill, so the three "code blue" cases that came in Saturday morning really were cardiac distress that needed immediate attention.

"That's also very important for us." said Michelle Marshall, CMC communications director. "Although we were conducting a drill, could we handle it?"

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