© Dave Mathieson - Amherst Daily News
After taking a shower as part of a chemical decontamination exercise, an emergency room nurse directs a patient to the next stage of the decontamination process.
AMHERST – It was a race against time to decontaminate the wounded after a chemical explosion in the Amherst Industrial Park left several people with life threatening injuries.
That was the emergency scenario laid out by the Cumberland Regional Health Authority during a mock preparedness exercise yesterday at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre.
"The drill is a requirement for accreditation," said Ann Keddy, director of public relations at the Cumberland Health Authority. "It's new provincial standard for us to do this kind of decontamination."
The Cumberland Health Authority has been planning for the drill since March.
"It's given us a chance to review our code orange, or mass casualty protocol," said Nancy Williamson, emergency preparedness officer with the Cumberland Health Authority.
Emergency department nurses received training in decontamination in order to be prepared for the exercise, and most of the people who were decontaminated were paramedic students who volunteered to help out with the drill.
"Two were severely injured and arrived by ambulance, and the others were people who left (the disaster site) on their own and arrived at the door," said Keddy.
Decontamination meant several of the paramedic students had to take showers in emergency tent showers set up in the ambulance bay at the hospital.
The decontamination drill was a district-wide event.
"We've had representatives from all our facilities to be part of it because when we have a disaster like this we all have to come together as a unit and manage it that way," said Keddy. "For example, if we had several people coming in we might have to move people from beds at this facility out to other facilities to be housed temporarily while we deal with those who are injured."
The drill ran from 4 to 5 p.m., and then the participants gathered for a debriefing.
"We talk to the decision makers and the participants to see how everything looked from their point of view," said Keddy. "Also, we had observers from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Health, so they will have input as well."
One of the people in attendance was Jim MacDougall, manager of planning exercises and training with the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.
"Exercises like this give the opportunity to test our plans and practice our people. That is the whole purpose of doing it," said MacDougall. "You can sit around and theorize all you want, but by donning the gear and putting the casualties through the system we learn and make our processes better."
MacDougall was impressed with the results.
"The Cumberland hospital here did a fantastic job testing the protocol here today," he said. "It took a lot of planning and preparation on their behalf, and they did a wonderful job.
"It gives a lot of confidence to me and it should give a lot of confidence to the community as well."
More pictures can be seen on the slide show at www.cumberlandnewsnow.com