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Mass-casualty drill held in Ogdensburg


OGDENSBURG — When firefighters and rescue workers arrived at Route 812 and Route 37 on Sunday morning, they found a school bus tipped onto its side with an SUV rammed into its undercarriage.

Both vehicles were filled with injured passengers, and there were even bodies lying in the street.

Luckily, this was simply a drill hosted by the Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad. The drill was to involve implementation of the St. Lawrence County Multiple/Mass Casualty Response Plan and include at least 14 fire and EMS departments.

Kenneth J. Gardner, the Ogdensburg squad’s director of operations, said drills like this are important.

“We need to be able to work with different agencies,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, it’s going to happen sometime. It might not be a car and a bus, but if we ever have an accident with multiple injuries, we need to be ready for it.”

Assistant Director David A. Montroy said it was time for such a drill. “We haven’t done anything like this in over 20 years,” he said.

Mr. Montroy drew up Sunday’s accident scenario, in which the driver of an SUV was not paying attention while coming off the Route 37 off-ramp, and the SUV hit the side of the bus.

While the scenario did not include anything about cellphones, one of the students participating in the drill said that after seeing Sunday’s scene, she has a better understanding of how damaging distracted driving can be.

“This is why we don’t text and drive,” said Gretchen H. Paige, as she lay on the ground covered in makeup that made it appear as if she had broken both of her legs.

St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Director Joseph M. Gilbert said it’s not just firefighters and rescue workers who benefit from practicing, as the drill also served as an exercise for his department’s dispatcher trainees.

“No department on the ground moves until dispatch sends them there,” Mr. Gilbert said, adding that the dispatchers worked from a mobile command center set up near the scene.

“We need this training just like they do,” said Ronda L. Wells, dispatch supervisor, referring to the other emergency personnel on the scene.

“This showed us that the procedures we have in place to follow work. This is a great exercise,” she said.

Although the drill was the first such event Ogdensburg has hosted in some time, Mr. Gardner said similar exercises are held around the county each year. “Canton did one a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

Keith M. Weston, Heuvelton Fire Department first assistant chief, served as incident commander and said he liked what he saw.

“The big thing is, things like this don’t happen every day,” Mr. Weston said. “You have to pull in resources from so many areas and at the same time not leave those areas unprotected.”

While Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center was not represented at the scene, Mr. Weston said the hospital played an important role in the drill.

Juveniles involved in such accidents “can’t sign off and we can’t sign off, so they all end up going to the hospital,” he said.

Should a school bus accident really occur, Mr. Weston said, things at the hospital could get crazy pretty quickly. “They could end up with 30 kids sitting over in the emergency room,” he said. “I think things went really well.”

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