Disaster crews prepare

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Mike Kerr, a firefighter and paramedic with the Eagle Joint Fire District, center right, coordinates the sign-in for a disaster drill Wednesday morning behind Hubbard High School.

By Jeanne Starmack



It was a disaster drill waiting to happen.

Wednesday morning seemed normal in the chilly fall drizzle, except for the odd array of blue and pink plywood figures lying flat on the lawn behind the Hubbard schools complex.

School administrators were huddled in a small group on the sidewalk nearby.

Suddenly, the city’s warning sirens sounded for three minutes, just as they would if a massive tornado was bearing down on the city. Fire crews, Life Fleet ambulances, city and township police, Trumbull County HazMat crews, ham-radio operators from Amateur Radio Emergency Services and chaplains began arriving.

They quickly set up an incident-command tent, signed in and got to work.

Over on the lawn, their blue and pink victims waited with a wide range of injuries. The blue ones, the boys, and the pink ones, the girls, had issues ranging from minor mouth bleeding to amputations to crush injuries.

The disaster drill, led by the Eagle Joint Fire District and directed by firefighter and paramedic Mike Kerr, had just begun.

Inside the high school, it was business as usual. Real students were not participating in the drill — with the exception of two. Sophomores Lee O’Hara and Ben Kerr later would fill special roles in the building.

Outside, schools Superintendent Richard Buchenic and Hubbard Mayor John Darko were among the observers as Life Fleet began its triage.

The triage crew would rate the injuries according to color. Black meant deceased. Red meant critical. Yellow meant not as serious, and green meant the victim was walking.

A school bus pulled up, which would be used for evacuation to two nearby churches and the VFW lodge.

The rescue workers loaded their patients onto the bus, asking and answering questions as they did so.

“How old?”

“Fifteen-year-old ...”

“This one’s walking.”

“We gotta find out what we want to do with the dead one.”

With the bus loaded, the crew went to the three evacuation centers. Members of Crisis Response International, a faith-based organization that has a unit in Coitsville, continued a triage assessment for ambulances on the way.

Back at the school, two search-and-rescue dog teams were arriving. Kiah, a 3-year-old Australian shepherd, and her handler, Sandy Mancini, work with the Mecca Fire Department. They would be joined by Wrigley, a 6-year-old Newfoundland from Independent Canine Search and Rescue of Lawrence County. Handling Wrigley were Connie Oshop and Jarret Chapman.

Inside the school, Lee and Ben were hidden victims. The dogs had 20 minutes to find them.

“We go into rooms systematically,” Mancini said. Inside, she directed Kiah at each doorway.

“Check,” she said. When Kiah found nothing, it was back out into the hall and on with the search.

She soon found Ben, and as a reward, she got to chase a ball down the hall. Wrigley, who was working nearby, continued to search for Lee.

He stopped at the auditorium, and when the handlers opened the doors, he padded into the room. Lee was sitting on the other side of the auditorium in the dark. The dog had found him within 10 minutes.

“Good boy!” said Oshop, and Wrigley responded with an enthusiastic bark. He, too, got a toy.

When both victims were found, the drill was over and Mike Kerr led a meeting at the Hubbard school board offices to critique the performance.

Some issues: no radio operator on the evacuation bus, and problems with radio communications from inside the churches.

There were some issues with triage, said Kerr, who has 16 years’ experience in disaster medicine and has responded to typhoons, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, including Katrina. “Triage is fast. We gotta get moving,” he told rescue crews.

Kerr and Eagle Fire District Chief Ron Stanish said that overall, the drill went well. Everyone was there to learn.

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