PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) trained 25 staff members to respond to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Weapon (CBRN) attacks from April 22 - 25, a course the medical center holds to make sure its staff is prepared to handle such emergencies.
With the recent tragedy in West, Texas, and the ricin-laced letters sent to officials in Washington, D.C., and Mississippi, it's important for those in the medical community to keep their skills sharp. As Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael Sperry, NMCP's Ambulatory Infusion Clinic staff and student in the course, said, "There's no use in being scared. The only thing to do is be prepared."
Preparedness is a principle that was built into the foundation of NMCP, and that's why twice a year, the multi-day course teaches staff to respond quickly and appropriately.
"This training is important because part of our mission requirements are that we have 118 people for the emergency response team," said Laurence Melvin, current operations chief. "So in the event that something happens, we want to have a decontamination team that can safely decontaminate our patients so we can treat them safely in our hospital and not put our staff at risk. It is good to have the training for our mission capability and, more importantly, for taking care of our patients the best we can."
The course, led by Theresa Casey, a CBRN instructor and consultant, trains the volunteers, corpsmen and non-medical personnel how to rapidly respond to an event, minimize the effect of the attack and save lives.
She explained to the students that if something were to happen, people would rush from the affected area to the medical center, a place where they can get care. But before they can enter the Emergency Room and endanger the lives of the staff in the Emergency Department, those who are potentially contaminated would first need to be triaged and decontaminated by first receivers outside.
On the first day, the students set up the decontamination equipment to determine if there were any field repairs needed. If so, they learned to make those repairs and how to maintain the equipment.
The second day of training was the didactic phase - eight hours in the classroom learning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommended guidelines for becoming first receivers. They learned about the different agents and how to recognize the symptoms associated with each of them.
The third day was hands-on training. Students dressed in protective gear and set up the decontamination station behind the Emergency Room. During training, they must complete the tasks within 20 minutes, the requirement in a real emergency. They then triaged simulated patients and thoroughly decontaminated them using the proper equipment. They learned the proper water temperature needed to maximize decontamination without scalding the patient.
"The desired outcome would be that these 25 folks feel very comfortable with their capability if something happened," Casey said. "For example, a ricin incident or an anhydrous ammonia explosion. We've had two examples in the past week where this knowledge would have been very useful for a community hospital or a medical center. So these students - NMCP staff - need to feel comfortable and confident in their skills."
"She's probably one of the best instructors I've had in my naval career so far," Sperry said. "She's so knowledgeable, and really makes you get in there and learn the material so that it sticks with you. God forbid anything should actually arise that would cause us to use this training, but if it does, I feel we're ready and able to handle it. Not to mention, it's useful training that all Sailors can take with them to the fleet."
The 25 students who completed the first three days of the course were certified in Hazardous Waste Operations at the Operator Level. Training on the fourth and final day was for advanced first receiver operation training for response leaders at NMCP and area branch health clinics.
Because of this course, the medical center is always able to have well-trained teams on standby, and is ready and able to respond to whatever emergency may arise.
"At the end of the day, I hope the students realized the importance of CBRN and how prevalent it is right now in our society, and how people are using it more and more every day," Melvin added. "I hope they understand the importance of the team, the importance of the mission and the teamwork that comes out of this training and knowing that it's needed more now than ever."
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