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Disaster drill puts crews, system to the test
03.06 firefighters 1
Firefighters gather to discuss the damage. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The blood and gore were all part of an act, right down to the tree limb that impaled an Effingham County High School student.

But it was getting treated as if it were very much real.

The scene for law enforcement and emergency personnel was a log truck hitting the rear end of a school bus carrying nearly 30 students. That meant having Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies, Georgia State Patrol troopers and Springfield Police officers controlling the scene, Effingham County Fire and Rescue and emergency medical technicians removing the injured and assessing their injuries, Effingham County High School and school board officials attempting to get a tally of those hurt, those taken to the hospital and contacting parents and Effingham Hospital representatives taking part as well.

The result — one fatality and more than two dozen students suffering a variety of injuries, who later flooded the emergency room at Effingham Hospital.

“We’ve had several school bus wrecks, the last 20 years, that I’m aware of,” said Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie. “Thank goodness we’ve never had any injuries to this magnitude.”

Though the responders were prepared for the drill, there were still plenty of surprises to be thrown their way.

“Even though we knew this was coming, we didn’t know what the injuries were going to be,” EMS Director Wanda McDuffie said. “We didn’t know what to actually expect once we got here. We didn’t know how many patients we were going to have. From that aspect, it was a real-life scenario.”

Even the coroner, David Exley, was on hand to pronounce the bus driver “dead.”

The exercise was real enough to concern the brother of the log truck driver, who stopped to ask what was going on.

And that’s just the way the authorities wanted it.

“It could happen,” Sheriff McDuffie said.

“Our traffic concerns in this county are astronomical.”

Ashlyn Seckinger had two broken legs, according to the drill, and Savannah Dozier’s injury was even more serious — she had a piece of a tree limb protruding from her midsection.

“I’m seriously injured,” Seckinger said. “It happened so quick.”

The students who were chosen to take part in the drill first had to be able to afford to miss class time — and they also got to pick their injuries, if they acted quickly enough.

“We’re one of the lucky ones,” Dozier said, the limb sticking from her midsection and her back.

“She’s still breathing,” Seckinger said.

The “injuries” to the students were courtesy of hospital employees, who applied the makeup and accessories for their wounds. Yet the responders to the scene treated the injuries and the conditions as if the students truly were hurt.

“With the opportunity to come out and practice before a real event gives us a chance to see what our weak spots are and what we can do to improve our relationships with other agencies,” Wanda McDuffie said. “It gives us a chance to practice our triaging skills, which is a very important event if you have a mass casualty event like this.”

The drill is one of two such disaster exercises Effingham Hospital is required to hold every year. EMS Director McDuffie said this was the largest scale drill she’s been involved in.

“Today was a little larger scale, more agencies involved and more planning put in today’s event than what we’ve had in the past,” she said.