December 02, 2009

First responders’ final exam will be full of chaos

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Bedlam besets Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center Dec. 10 with a drug bust gone wrong, a hostage situation and a terrorist attack.

“There’ll be a flash-bang explosion, people will get shot -- it’ll be a rush,” said Peggy A. Wilken, a clinical assistant professor for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Health Education and Recreation.

Media Advisory

Reporters are welcome at the disaster drill, which will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, at Touch of Nature Environmental Center, which is about seven miles south of Carbondale off of Giant City Road. Media representatives will meet in front of the old lodge. For more information, call Peggy A. Wilken at 618/453-1832 (office), 618/303-0365 (cell) or 618/565-2509 (home).

Wilken teaches a course for “first responders” who treat the victims of accidents and disasters at the scene. The final exam, full of noise, chaos and graphic injuries mocked up by make-up pros from the University’s theater department, aims to test the mettle of the students who have survived her coursework.

Officer David Jennings, head of the University’s own SWAT team, wrote this year’s exam, which features “guns” and “ammo” from Xtreme Sports and Out Of This World Paintball for an extra touch of realism. In Jennings’ first scenario, a drug dealer discovers that his “client” is wearing a wire and administers a vicious beating. Shooting breaks out when the SWAT team breaks in. In the second, a man forces his way into a women’s shelter and takes his girlfriend hostage, shooting staff members, children and a woman in the end stages of pregnancy. In the last, a terrorist begins shooting at a camp for children. While the team deals with him, a suicide bomber approaches the first responders.

“The idea is that the scenarios get progressively worse so the students rise to greater and greater challenges,” Jennings said.

Wilken said this particular set of scenarios will enhance the training effect because the students will have to perform “literally under fire.”

“Being in the middle of a shoot-out won’t be easy,” she said.

“There will be a significant amount of people to treat. The students will have to do triage, treat the most severely injured and then get them out of there while people are shooting at them, and if they themselves get shot, they go down.”

Wilken reckons they can get through this mayhem in two hours, three hours tops.

“Once it gets going, it goes fast,” she said with enthusiasm. “It’ll be fun!”

While the disaster drill serves as the peak experience for students taking her course, Wilken emphasized that HER 434 offers much more.

“The students this year did the teams course out at Touch of Nature, they did an eight-hour ride-along with the Jackson County Ambulance Service, they watched an autopsy at the St. Louis University hospital,” she said. “It’s an exciting course.”

Although the course aims at aspiring first responders -- successful completion results in state certification -- Wilken believes just about anyone would benefit from enrolling.

“This is an advanced first-aid class,” she said.

“Everybody should know how to handle an emergency situation. It’s better to have that knowledge and not need it than to need it and not have it.”