Local emergency responders conducted a mass casualty response exercise at Central High School Tuesday morning.
Around 9 a.m., emergency responders from the La Crosse Police and Fire Departments, Tri-State Ambulance tested their mass casualty response plans with the School District of La Crosse’s emergency plans.
"We have not had a major full-scale exercise in 10 years," said La Crosse County Emergency Response Management Coordinator Keith Butler, "we needed to see how everyone played together in the same sandbox."
Crews were not told the emergency scenario in advance, like they were in the past. In this scenario, there was a chemistry lab explosion on the third floor of the building.
"Our past practice has been to sort of script out our exercises and everything was preplanned and they knew at this point in time, this was going to happen," Butler said. "And they never got familiar with how they should really react when they’re faced with unknowns, faced with challenge - parents trying to get back into the building, students are leaving by vehicle and not knowing where they are - those are the things we've never really practiced. We wanted them to have that realistic opportunity today."
Butler said firefighters worked very fast and found all 25 "victims" under 20 minutes. If this was a real situation, more emergency crews from the area would have responded, including the Town of Campbell and the Onalaska Police and Fire Departments.
From there, the victims were split between the local hospitals which had to respond two hours earlier than expected.
"We came from our workouts and different home events as we would in a mass casualty situation," says Eric Voter, M.D., the emergency department medical director at Gundersen Health System.
That added a piece of realism for the hospital.
"That would aboslutely stress any medical system anywhere and that's what's also good too, this type of training session shows us how to respond in that stress situation," says Voter
The Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine provided the emergency medical exercise planning and coordinated the realistic setting.
The crews involved in the drill will meet in two weeks to discuss how well everyone coordinated their response efforts and what they can do to be more efficient.