GREENFIELD — It was just before 9:30 when the phones started buzzing and pinging.
A helicopter crashed on the landing pad atop Hancock Regional Hospital, the alert for Thursday’s emergency drill stated. A fire was spreading through the building. Be cautious but ready to work.
The Greenfield Fire Territory and hospital staff teamed up Thursday to conduct a joint training session to practice the skills they would need in a mass-casualty incident. They outlined a hypothetical scenario: a crash on the hospital’s heli-pad that left several injured and caused a fire to spread through the emergency wing.
Officials say such practice sessions give firefighters, nurses and doctors a chance to freshen up the skills they need when dealing with emergencies involving numerous victims — skills that, coincidentally, they were forced to employ last week when a van carrying a dozen children from a local church overturned right in front of the hospital.
Story continues below gallery
In all, 13 people — including the 11 children on board a van headed back to Trinity Park United Methodist Church after a daycare field trip — were hurt in the three-vehicle crash on June 16. Each is expected to fully recover from their injuries.
And while the response to the accident went as well as could be expected, there are always ways to learn and improve, Fire Chief James Roberts said. Training, like the one held this week — scheduled prior to the church van crash — offers a chance for everyone involved in those incidents to practice and iron out any bumps, hopefully ensuring a true emergency response without an issue, he said.
“There’s a saying, ‘practice like your life depends upon it – because it does,’” Roberts said following Thursday’s training.
Hancock Regional and the fire department are each required to hold at least one mass-causality training annually, and occasionally, they team up to hold the sessions, officials say.
The hospital holds such exercises at least twice a year, said Rob Matt, the hospital’s chief operating officer. Thursday’s training gave the staff a chance to practice an internal emergency, one that would cripple the facility in some way and force doctors, nurses and administrators to work around it, he said.
They walked through every step, just like they would in an actual emergency, firefighter Corey Breese said.
Firefighters and paramedic rushed to the roof, and hospital administrators worked from a command post inside the building, making note of how many patients would need to be evacuated and which employees might be available to help treat victims.
Once it was over, staffers met to talk about what went well and weigh ways to improve, Matt said.
The dozen firefighters who participated learned some hospital doorways require key-card access; though the doors would automatically unlock in a real emergency, firefighters would need to know whom to contact if the system fails, Breese said.
Hospital employees, too, realized additional staffers might need radios to communicate with other administrations during an emergency, so they might need to reorganize or order more equipment.
Ironing out those issues now will only help later, Breese said.
“Trainings should never run smoothly because that means you haven’t learned anything,” he said.