VA Palo Alto Health Care System
DECON Exercise Prepares Volunteers to Save Lives
I spent an amazing afternoon last Friday with an equally amazing group of employee volunteers. Volunteers who worked together as a decon team in an effort to save lives -- should the startling need ever occur.
"Working with these guys and being part of our facility's Decon Team just seemed to be an extension of my military experience and why I work for VA," Benjamin Shuford, OI&T, told me as two other people worked to get him suited up. "It's important to help and to know if the need ever arises, you can make a difference."
And this is where the real crux of the problem is. You can't wait until there is an emergency to volunteer to help on the Decon Team. According to Kevin Storm, emergency manager, "this type of support takes training – you have to know what you are doing before the emergency." Having spent the afternoon with this crew, there was no doubt in my mind that practice was a necessity.
The training course covered parts of two days. The first day was spent attending classroom instruction where they learned how a medical "warm zone" (contamination not expected, but possible) response interaction with other base agencies, medical considerations of different contaminants, antidote therapy, how to inspect and properly wear PPE, how to assess or triage casualties while in PPE and how to best organize the decon equipment to effectively decontaminate casualties. Parts of this type of training is done the third Friday of every month.
The second day was entirely "hands-on" training during which team members put into practice what they learned in the classroom.
Because the training was so intense, team members wore physical-training garb. They first were taught how to select a site for a medical warm zone, set up each piece of equipment and learned the equipment's capabilities, limitations, care and maintenance. They erected the complete warm zone and discussed each step down to the last sponge and pair of scissors.
Team members next faced "patients," both ambulatory and on litters, both real and not so real. They assessed each patient, determined the potential contaminant, triaged, performed life-saving measures including antidote therapy and subsequently efficiently decontaminated each patient.
Storm explained that in this class, 'simulate' is a dirty word. We simulate nothing, he explained. Everything is as real as possible. The team will learn to properly decontaminate victims so we can then provide the necessary health care.
From the view point of an uneducated observer, watching this exercise was a thing of beauty; they really took this training to heart. I also learned that having educated team members is critical, so I leave all of you with a plea – call Kevin Storm, ext. 65554, and tell him you want to be part of the team. You do not have to be a clinician; people volunteer from EMS, Chaplains Service, IT, as well as clinical services. Not everyone has to wear all of the equipment, we need people who can support, as much as those who can wear the equipment.
Everyone is needed. Everyone can help. Everyone can make a difference.
Sign up. I did.
View more photos of the exercise on our Facebook page.