Northport VA Medical Center
Decon Drill at Northport VA Medical Center
On June 23, 2016, spectators gathered around the entrance to the emergency room at the Northport VA Medical Center as trailers, decon tents and various equipment was set up, to see what could be causing all the activity. As volunteers donned protective suits and masks, it appeared as if there might be an actual crisis occurring but the announcement over an ambulance loudspeaker assured the public that there was no need to be alarmed. “This is a drill!” It was the final day of decon training, a collaborative training seminar between the Northport VAMC and Stony Brook Hospital.
Decon teams were composed of all volunteers and the training sessions normally last about 2-3 days. The final day of training always has a real-life simulation of a decon crisis where trainees can put on the protective gear and run drills of what would actually take place during a chemical or radiation situation.
The trainees for this seminar spent the first day learning classroom-style in building 5 of the Northport VA. On the second day, they completed their theory requirements. During the lectures, volunteers learned about the multifaceted, complex process of decontamination. Just a few subjects covered during the lectures were the different “zones” that a decon site is broken down into, what kind of equipment is used, proper protocols of decontamination, and documentation.
Trainees learned about the environmental factors that come into play and that even the temperature of the water used is important. They also were taught that after a decon event happens the job is not over. Someone must monitor a few different things after the fact to ensure public safety such as air pollution, groundwater and soil contamination. Nothing can be left unchecked. Someone even has to know where the wastewater ends up and document it. All of these topics were thoroughly covered during the lecture portion and shown again in an informative video played at the end of the lectures; this gave the trainees a chance to see the entire decon process before they went outside and practiced themselves.
Once the lecture ended, everyone made their way outside to where the simulation site was being set up. They toured the different areas of the site and learned the purpose of placement for each zone. They then gathered where they received specific assignments for the drill so everyone would know exactly where they were supposed to be and what their responsibilities were.
As the VA police and fire department helped set up the tents, water and equipment, the volunteers donned their protective suits, boots, gloves, hoods and respirators. Since there are many strict regulations and because of the complexity of the gear, each decon team member required an assist while putting on the protective gear.
Once the site was set up and the team was ready, they began the drill. With the help of three volunteers and Minnie a service-dog-in-training, playing contaminated causalities, the team was able to put what they learned in theory into practice. They were still able to ask questions and get guidance from instructors to ensure that they properly performed the process.
The team ushered volunteer “patients” into the proper areas as they triaged them upon arrival in the “hot zone,” or contaminated area. People who would be able to walk on their own were brought to one section of the decon tent and instructed on how to properly perform a self-decontamination. Team members transferred “patients” who were non-ambulatory from stretchers and onto a conveyer belt where the team stationed inside the “warm zone” (where victims were washed) would cut away contaminated clothing, and safely wash injured victims as quickly, but efficiently, as possible. After the decon process, other team members were stationed in the “cold zone,” or clean area, where they were given a final check for contaminants and vitals were taken.
Team members practiced as the volunteer victims cycled through the process. Minnie, the friendly dog victim, looked a little hesitant at first but quickly enjoyed the chance to cool off and play with the water in the tent on this overcast, but hot, day.
As the drill concluded, “patients” were passed towels and the decon team took off their protective gear with some outside assistance to peel away the many layers secured with duct tape. Afterwards, everyone went back into building 5 where they finished off the training by having people go around in a circle citing something that went well during the drill in addition to some constructive criticism so the process would be improved.
Since some people were just learning the process, there were some bumps cited by the participants. The importance of safety, efficiency and practice was continually emphasized. People were encouraged to take part in outside training seminars and decon drills to keep their skills sharp in their minds and solidify the entire process so things would run smoothly during an actual crisis. However, despite some improvements needed, the consensus reached was that everyone worked as a team very well; they kept up good communication throughout the entirety of the drill.
Thanks to the volunteers who took part in the drill, they took admirable steps toward helping others on times of need.