Twelve-year-old Kayla Colman from Pe Ell holds still as special makeup is applied to simulate scrapes on her cheek
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CURTIS – The sun was shining outside, but inside the Baw Faw Grange, some three dozen first responders and others listened quietly as the fire chief questioned them one by one on what they learned or how they felt during the just completed simulation of an emergency response to a head-on crash between a school bus and a loaded log truck.
Lewis County Fire District 13 Chief Gregg Peterson asked for feedback first from the children who played the roles of victims, some who had patiently waited to be “saved” as they lay on the pavement or in the brush along Lost Valley Road.
Fire Chief Gregg Peterson
“You liked how much you were checked on, even though you were dead,” Peterson said, repeating a comment from one of the youngsters.
Nearly all the pretend casualties echoed the sentiment, telling how a firefighter, EMT or paramedic was at their side during most of their time at the scene.
The debriefing was part of a long day on Saturday in the Boistfort Valley in which members of three fire departments, along with paramedics from American Medical Response, practiced how they would handle a mass casualty incident.
They started about 10:30 a.m.
Kids waited inside the Grange kitchen as 19-year-old Jennifer Peterson and Fire Capt. Ken Columbo sorted through their Hollywood makeup kits to apply “injuries” to faces, arms and other body parts. Each child had a card to describe their particular trauma.
“Minor cuts and scrapes,” Columbo read from 12-year-old Kayla Colman’s card. “Have a seat.”
Behind them, 15-year-old Sawyer Zock seemed almost pleased with the piece of wood that appeared to have impaled him through the chest.
Some 42 people took part in the exercise held in Curtis, in part, according to Chief Peterson, so the three volunteer fire departments in West Lewis County can find ways to work more closely with each other. It’s an ongoing process, and necessary, because when emergencies happen during the daytime, many of his 27 department members are at work and unavailable.
Members of Lewis County Fire District 11 from Pe Ell took part, but none were able to make it Saturday from Lewis County Fire District 16 out of Doty and Dryad.
Sawyer Zock, 15, of Pe Ell, pretends he is injured as firefighters tend to a girl in the brush during a mock school bus versus log truck crash on Saturday
They try to hold such multi-department drills about once each year, although this was the first since the December 2007 flood, Peterson said.
“This was the most complex one,” he said.
Peterson was quick to point to volunteer Fire Capt. Michele Hulbert as the organizer of the event.
The grange and adjacent District 13 fire station sit about 14 miles west and south of Chehalis. It’s a place that served as one of the hubs of activity during and after the flood that devastated so much of west Lewis County. Their parking lot on Saturday was packed with emergency vehicles.
Firefighters from Riverside Fire Authority in Centralia brought their MCI unit, a trailer packed with materials and equipment useful if any kind of incident resulted in a large number of victims. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Kytta said none of the four MCI trailers parked around Lewis County for about the past six years have yet been used in a real emergency but could be, for example, if an Amtrak train wrecked, a large building or stadium collapsed or a bus crashed.
“All it takes is one school bus or a Greyhound with 50 people, or 40 or 30,” Kytta said. “And we’re there.”
The radio call went out about 12:15 p.m.
Firefighters and medics tend to the "wounded" during a simulation on Saturday of a mass casualty incident along Lost Valley Road in the Boistfort Valley
About four miles up the twisting, two-lane Lost Valley Road a yellow school bus was sat cheek-to-cheek with a truck. (Masquerading as a log truck was a dump truck pulling a trailer, which served a dual purpose. It carried a working port-potty for participants.)
Responding personnel were told leaking fuel was running in streams down the roadway and caught on fire.
The complication meant emergency vehicles had to take a longer route, but soon a row of seven ambulances were parked and idling along the tree-lined road at the opposite side of the scene.
Firefighters and medics evaluated the 12 children and two adult drivers they found, conducted some on-scene treatment and packaged up several on backboards for transport.
Incident commander, District 13 volunteer Capt. Kurt Reichert directed their activities. Nearby, a responding pastor comforted and prayed with a girl sitting in the truck’s cab next to another girl who had assumed the role of a deceased driver.
Chief Peterson acted as an observer. He and Capt. Hulbert looked around and spoke of some of the challenges such an incident would create. They would need a human to be at each roadblock a little earlier if something like this really happened, they said.
It wouldn’t take long for a mob of frantic parents to appear, Hulbert said.
“We’re gonna have parents coming from both ends, we’re gonna have parents walking through the woods,” she said.
Emergency vehicles from four agencies respond on Saturday to the mock scenario of a log truck versus school bus collision about four miles up Lost Valley Road in West Lewis County
When they were all back inside the Grange discussing what they’d learned, some spoke of not having enough of certain equipment they needed nearby.
There was confusion initially about who was incident commander because the individual who arrived first hadn’t been slated for that task.
“People might hear a more senior officer ordering resources over the air, but the first person on the scene is in charge, even if they’ve only been working a week,” Peterson reminded them.
Kytta, a veteran professional firefighter and longtime chief in rural Centralia, offered praise all around, but noted there were some responders completely out of radio contact.
Pastor Rex Beresford, of Boistfort Community Church, was among the last to speak before the meeting broke up for the barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs waiting in the next room. His own daughter was one of the “victims”.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven those curves, that was our bus,” Beresford said. “That was about as real as I ever want to see it.”
Former West Lewis County resident Rob Keller played the role of a news photographer who shows up to the accident scene and said he plans to post his photographs on his web site, www.robcat.net