Firefighters carried a stretcher to a helicopter that had landed in West Pine Bluff minutes earlier Saturday morning as additional firefighters prepared to carry a second “seriously injured” teenager to a waiting EASI ambulance.
The triage established by firefighters indicated two teens were declared “dead” and half a dozen others had been “injured.” Two heavily damaged cars littered the nearby pavement.
The helicopter from Baptist Health in Little Rock lifted off at 9:26 a.m., less than 10 minutes after landing. The “injured” teens jumped up from the grass to watch the departure, their role as participants in a mock disaster drill concluded at the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department training academy off West 7th Avenue.
Kayelyn Bibb, a Sheridan High School sophomore who minutes earlier was carried to the ambulance suffering from a “penetrating chest wound,” walked away with a smile on her face. The helicopter landed after circling Pine Bluff and deposited Jordan Moore, a Sheridan High School junior who had sustained third-degree burns, numerous cuts and lacerations, and was unconscious.
After lifting off, Moore was furnished headphones so she could monitor the radio traffic as the helicopter flew about 10 miles before returning.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said, acknowledging it was her first time in a helicopter.
Bill Remow, a Sheridan high history teacher and a member of the Sheridan Volunteer Fire Department, had brought the students to pose as accident victims for the drill.
Pine Bluff firefighter Chris Mackey, who coordinated the drill for firefighters, said the “mass incident training exercise” was successful in helping train firefighters on what to do during a major disaster. The dozen or so firefighters had already undergone classroom training to prepare for the drill, which involved a mythical “building explosion.”
Shauwn Howell, chief of the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department, said the department will be holding more drills to train firefighters and emergency medical technicians and recertify existing EMTs in the department. An estimated 75 percent of the city’s firefighters are now certified as EMTs, with a goal of reaching 100 percent.
Mackey said the drills add realism to the EMT training sessions, adding “it went pretty smoothly. Everyone knew what they had to do.”
Howell said Mackey coordinated the drill because of his experience as an EMT before joining the fire department, calling the firefighter a “vital asset” to training.
Howell said the emergency medical training means fire service is “taking us in a different direction.”
Howell said the department has policies and procedures in place for disasters and is currently drafting a mass disaster plan, which should be ready by the end of the year.
“With the traffic on Interstate 530, railroad traffic, the potential for an earthquake and tornadoes, we must be prepared for a disaster with mass casualties,” Howell said. “Training like today’s drill is where fire service is taking us.”
Howell said Baptist Health and EASI furnished the ambulance, helicopter and personnel without charge for the exercise.