HERU holds incident training

By Erica Mitrano | November 3, 2005

The Hopkins Emergency Response Unit (HERU) held a mass casualty drill on Sunday evening at the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy.

HERU, a Homewood campus first-response unit run by students, organized the training exercise with the cooperation of the Baltimore City Fire Department.

A mass casualty situation, explained senior Matt Bassett, HERU's training officer, is "where the number of patients overwhelms the number of people available to treat them."

During this drill, the student volunteers playing the roles of victims were supposed to exhibit symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning after being exposed to gas released from space heaters in their classroom. HERU members participating in the drill did not know this beforehand.

The patients were played by student volunteers from the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, the HERU training class and off-duty HERU members. Bassett explained to them that HERU responders would sort them according to the Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment (START) system.. Bassett then gave them a brief description of how carbon monoxide victims behave, assigned their roles and sent them to their places.

To begin the drill, Bassett placed a call to the HERU dispatcher. Soon Team Leader Lt. Sean Morgan, a senior, ran to the building, joined by eight others in the next few minutes.

There was some initial confusion among the responders. Morgan missed the victims on the north side of the building, neglecting them until they were noticed by the other team leader, senior Lt. Chris Massa. Morgan, unaware of the carbon monoxide, also sent part of his team into the building without protection. Two of them, sophomores Nik Rav-Mazunder and Mary-Ellen Poser, "died" from exposure to the gas.

Members of the Baltimore Fire Department, led by Lt. Jim Matz, participated in the drill but did not come on the scene until HERU had worked alone for some time. Eventually, firefighters and EMTs arrived and began helping the HERU members place patients on stretchers and backboards and bring them to a waiting ambulance. The drill ended when the last surviving patient had been evacuated to the ambulance.

Commenting on the drill, Bassett said it was "fairly well organized. Controlled chaos. You're never going to eliminate the confusion factor." About the simulated deaths of two of the HERU members, he said, "with a colorless, odorless, totally lethal gas, losing two people is a pretty good number."

Matz had a similar assessment. Communication and organization were weaknesses in the group's response, he said, as was its failure to assess "scene safety" at the beginning of the drill. But overall, he said "I think they did well. I think they were all on track with that they did."

Matz believed that the drill was helpful in improving HERU's performance. "You gotta practice and practice and know where the weak spots are," he said.

Bassett praised the support that HERU receives from Johns Hopkins Security: "I just can't say enough good things about [Ed Skrodzki, head of Homewood security]. He's given us everything we've asked for."

HERU's officers were also pleased with their new relationship with the Baltimore Fire Department. "To have worked with them gives us a new perspective," Massa said. "When we don't work with the medics, we have a different goal [stabilization of the patients, not treatment]. Having that new focus, that new cooperation, is really important in improving safety at Hopkins in the event of a disaster."

Bassett agreed, saying, "I'm very excited about the fact that we are working with the fire department on a more or less equal footing. That just means good things for our patients."

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