The annual disaster drill is heating up Piedmont’s spring semester and lighting a fire under senior nursing majors by giving them the real-world experience of rescuing injured civilians from a burning building.
“I think it’s awesome how well they’ve been able to simulate a real disaster. The smoke and fire alarms will be on,” said junior nursing major Alex Domenicali prior to the drill. “They have to come in here and not only get us out of this building that is supposed to be on fire, but also figure out who needs to go first, and kind of prioritize and assess.”
Associate Professor of Theatre Henry Johnson helped to create a stressful atmosphere in the Swanson Center that would serve as a challenge for Piedmont’s nursing students to overcome. Johnson’s makeup class helped by turning junior nursing and sports medicine majors into gruesome victims of the faux fire, while the professor himself put his license in pyrotechnics to use creating the flames.
“The corner of the scene shop is where we store paint in an ATF approved storage container,” said Johnson. “If it got hot enough it would blow, and that’s what this explosion will be. It’s not really an explosion. It’s simulated. There’s no concussion to amount to anything, but there’s a bang and a fireball. The fireball is basically coffee creamer. Coffee creamer burns if you proportion it right with other things.
Several theatre majors were also recruited to help bring the illusion of emergency to life. They set up colored lighting and fog machines that were used to create the most immersive experience possible. After adding blaring alarms and a company of firefighters to the equation, the Swanson Center truly became a disaster zone.
“It’s awesome to see not only our nursing students, but also the first responders– the firefighters, the EMT’s, and the police– kind of work together,” said Domenicali. “We get to see them in action.”
Representatives from many different agencies were present for the drill, including Habersham Emergency Management Agency, District 2 Public Health, Demorest Police Department, and Habersham County Emergency Services. Officers of the Piedmont College Police Department were working to assist these many agencies by directing people where to park and showing first responders where to find the burn victims.
“It’s a great way for the community resources to come and get a practice in, because hopefully we don’t have any mass casualty events, but everyone needs to be prepared for one,” said Dr. Abbey Dondanville, Associate Dean of Health Sciences. “It’s a great place for the fire department, the police, Homeland Security, and everyone that can be involved to come practice and make sure their lines of communication are clear and concise.”
Though other parties might benefit from the drill as well, it is still mainly an exercise for senior nursing students, who served as rescuers. The drill was designed to give students the chance to put the skills they’ve learned to the test in a realistic environment. “It’s sometimes the first time they’ve really had to think on their feet and not know what to expect,” said Dondanville. “It gives them that safe space to try their skills and their communication, and if they make a mistake it’s OK because no one has actually died.”
Each of the victims was given a notecard that informed them of their ailment, as well as any other instructions they needed. Some participants were instructed to haggle or harass the nurses. By placing pressure on the first responders, the patients helped them get a better understanding of what real-life application of their knowledge will be like.
The patient’s job was to create obstacles. The nurse’s job was to overcome them. “We’re having to triage these people and figure out who’s better off and who can survive,” said senior nursing major Kayley Steiner.
Rescuers faced the task of diagnosing the patients and determining whether they had minor injuries, needed delayed attention, needed immediate attention or were deceased. They then led– or carried– the patients out of the building and placed them on color-coded tarps that signaled to other nurses how severe their injuries were.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said Domenicali. “There are a lot of schools in Georgia that don’t get to do this”