MCC students save the day after simulated arson fire at Health Science Institute

MCC health, fire, police and EMS students are put to the test during a simulated disaster April 5 at the Health Science Institute. (Photos by Chris Meggs/MCC)

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a recent spring morning, a piercing alarm in the student parking garage at MCC’s Health Science Institute turned an expectant atmosphere into one of action.

But all was not as it seemed. On this day the garage, car-less and divided into three “rooms” by orange safety fencing, represented a business on fire. And though no smoke could be seen, the MCC firefighter students who entered the garage on their hands and knees, clinging to a fire hose, could see very little. Gray screens over their face masks simulated a smoky room.

EMS and fire students treat injured “patients” during the exercise.

Their mission: to find and rescue any remaining “employees” and “firefighters” — portrayed by both human actors and dummies — trapped in the building.

That was the basic setup of HSI’s mass casualty simulation exercise April 5. The scenario had MCC-Blue River fire students responding to the scene after the unit that initially took the call radioed for assistance.

Once firefighters pulled people out of the building, EMS students took over outside. (The dummies were then replaced by some of the Virtual Hospital’s patient simulators, high-tech “mannequins” that can speak, breathe, moan in pain and bleed.) Then inside HSI, nursing students provided further treatment.

Meanwhile, MCC-Blue River police students canvassed the area trying to catch an arsonist. According to the premise, a disgruntled worker showed up at his workplace and used lighter fluid to start a fire.

The suspect was played by MCC-Penn Valley’s Eric Thompson, interim dean of student development, who was indeed captured by the police students. “It was like ‘CSI,’ ” one bystander observed. “They solved it in 43 minutes.”

MCC instructors watch closely as students put classroom lessons into practice.

About 200 MCC students, instructors and staff took part in the event, including 26 injured “patients,” some human and some not. Six were rescued from the garage.

Nursing, EMS, health information management and radiologic technology students who take classes at HSI (part of the Penn Valley campus) worked alongside the police and fire students.

At the conclusion of the simulation exercise, students debriefed by discipline in a handful of HSI classrooms.

The annual HSI simulation is “a phenomenal interdisciplinary training opportunity for our MCC students,” says Liz Santander, interim director of health science and simulation.

A faculty group representing MCC’s various health-care disciplines designed the event “to allow our students to actively practice collaboration, communication, teamwork and disaster care,” Santander says.

When it comes to planning each year’s mass casualty exercise, there’s no lack of real-world material,  MCC simulation instructor Todd Geringer told KMBC, Channel 9.

“Kind of the disappointing part of all this is that the violence of a scenario is a more and more commonplace thing,” he says.

KMBC, Channel 9, and KCTV5 covered the event. Here’s KMBC’s report:

More photos from the event: