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Mock disaster in mission township { October 27 2003 }

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Web posted Monday, October 27, 2003

Mock disaster in Mission Township
Staff Writer

MISSION TOWNSHIP -- The blood and the injuries were fake, including the plastic fork that was seemingly impaled in Pequot Lakes High School senior Rachel Anderson's face.

Though it wasn't real, many of the children and adults who volunteered as "victims" of a mock disaster drill Sunday in Mission Township said they were amazed at the magnitude of the training exercise, from the overturned school bus and car fire to the propane tank fire that blew flames as tall as the nearby trees on Crow Wing County Road 11 near Mission Township.

A few children said they were a little scared, even though they knew the drill wasn't real and many of their parents were firefighters and emergency personnel at the scene. Most thought it was fun.

"It's pretty cool because we got to be in a bus that flipped over," said Noah Broberg, 11, Merrifield.

The mock training exercise was primarily organized by the Mission Township Fire Department and included the Crosslake, Pequot Lakes and Ideal Township fire departments; North Ambulance and Air Care; Mission and Crosslake First Responders; and law enforcement officers from the Crosslake and Breezy Point police departments and the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department.

Only a handful of people knew the entire scenario. All of the firefighters and emergency rescue workers knew there was to be a drill on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't until they were paged from their homes at 2:33 p.m. did they realize where it was and what was going to be occurring when they arrived. A portion of County Road 11 east of County Road 3 in Mission Township was blocked off and traffic was diverted for hours for the staged accident.

The scenario involved a car driven by a drunk driver who had two passengers in the car. The car struck a school bus full of children, which caused the bus to overturn. The victims in the car were thrown into a wooded area near the roadway, where emergency personnel had to find them. The car was hooked up to propane and set on fire for the drill. Reichert Bus Service donated an old school bus for the staged accident, which was overturned by Peterson Towing. Another bus also was involved in the mock crash and contained a group of senior citizens who were on their way to a casino. Those seniors were volunteer actors from the Mission Possible Senior Club. A nearby propane tank, donated by Gas Service Co. of Merrifield, was ignited, which brought an additional risk and diversion at the scene if it were a real situation for rescue personnel as they attempted to save lives.

There were 24 children, teens and adults and 12 senior citizens who volunteered as victims. They wore tags around their necks that described how they were supposed to act during the accident and their medical conditions, which ranged from minor to serious and fatal injuries. Three victims were to "play dead" during the mock drill. The senior citizens were instructed to fake heart attacks, dizziness and other problems. Trained personnel, including Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Mahle, stood back and critiqued the emergency personnel as to how they responded to the situation.

"This is something in real life that could happen," said Randy Roach, Mission Township assistant fire chief who helped plan the event. He said school buses from the Pequot Lakes and Crosby-Ironton School Districts have routes through Mission Township. A bus accident is a possibility.

"We're hoping to get mass casualty knowledge," said Roach. "We're hoping to gain the knowledge on how to set triage. It's really a tough call for anybody to walk by someone who needs help but you can't save them."

A North Air Care helicopter landed nearby and transported a few "victims" in the aircraft. It was an opportunity for a free helicopter ride for a few young people.

"It's incredible," said Ashley Dressel, a senior at Pequot Lakes High School. "It feels real. There's so much going on."

"We thought there would be a bus, maybe a fire truck," added Rachel Anderson, who had a fork handle protruding from her cheek until the cold weather made the glue come unstuck. "We didn't expect this."

"It's great to be a part of it because you can see the interworkings of it going on," said Bob Carlson, a Mission Township volunteer victim. "Usually in an accident you see it from afar."

Many of the victims were ushered to specific sites by emergency personnel where they could be treated for their fake injuries. Several students were lifted on backboards from the overturned school bus. A few students screamed and yelled, playing their part as victims for firefighters and emergency workers. It was difficult for many students to stifle their laughs as they pretended to be injured.

"It isn't bad because you know it's not real," said Dorothy Daleiden. "It makes a difference."

"These fire and rescue people," added Hazel Larson. "You've got to respect them for what they do."

Roach said emergency crews spent about an hour later discussing the drill and what improvements they could have made. They also had lunch with the fake accident victims and other participants.

"No matter what you do, there are flaws because there is chaos," said Roach. "It's so big. There are a lot of things here that would never happen, but I like to expand their horizons. ... I felt good at how it all went."

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