For all those times if you ever wondered why emergency departments practice worst case scenarios, the last week to 10 days should give you an answer.
We can’t think that such things “can’t happen here” because they have. And the police, fire, paramedics and all the other departments and agencies who were at the Imperial Sugar refinery moments after a silo exploded and fires swept through the plant should be commended for their swift action.
Try to put yourself in their shoes — it’s just turned dark, fire and smoke are everywhere and there are dozens, maybe a couple of hundred, of people running, screaming, some very badly hurt and in need of prompt attention. It’s a maelstrom to run into and try to figure things out, never mind try to get in there and start getting people out of danger and to medical attention as quickly as possible.
The size of the disaster at the Imperial Sugar refinery meant the Port Wentworth emergency officials had to call for mutual aid, and their neighbors, including those here in Effingham County, sprang into action as well. Effingham EMS crews waited to rush burn victims to nearby hospitals and firefighters from across the county shuttled needed water to the fire or manned posts in other Chatham towns as their crews were called into the refinery. Police cars were used to drive some victims to hospitals. Army and National Guard helicopters were used to ferry patients to Augusta burn treatment centers.
And all that happened in a matter of minutes and a few hours.
That’s why when fire, police, EMS and hospitals stage mass casualty exercises, they treat the dry runs with all seriousness and gravity, because you never know when you might really need to pull all that together.
Keep in mind that so many of those who rushed to the scene are volunteers. Port Wentworth’s own fire department has two full-time employees and about a dozen volunteers. Fire departments in Effingham rely heavily, and most of them exclusively, on volunteers.
I have witnessed a mass casualty exercise or two covering the Army. They try to throw as much chaos as they can into the mix, but it’s hard for anybody to simulate the smoke and darkness and confusion of what took place the evening of Feb. 7 on Port Wentworth’s Oxnard Road.
The next time another large-scale training session comes along, we’ll know why they take those matters so seriously.