GREAT FALLS — First responders from several communities worked together to respond to the deadly Amtrak train derailment in Liberty County several days ago. But how do they prepare for situations like this?
Great Falls Emergency Services was uniquely prepared. Call it a coincidence, call it luck, call it fate, call it whatever you want, but just one day before the Empire Builder train derailed, killing three people and injuring many others, GFES personnel participated in mass casualty incident training.
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Just one day later, they were able to put that training to use. "That was pretty good timing,” said GFES manager Justin Grohs.
When Great Falls Emergency Services personnel heard about Saturday's train derailment, they didn’t hesitate to respond.
"We heard there was an incident, kind of through the grapevine, and called up to Liberty County dispatch,” Grohs explained. "Our inclination was for everyone to just go, to respond, but of course we have an obligation to cover our local area as well."
A text was sent out asking for anyone available to come in and enough people showed up to staff every truck GFES has.
Several GFES personnel ended up going to Liberty County.
"By the time our first units arrived, Liberty County responders had already transported any surviving patients to the local hospital. When we understood that, our units redirected to the Chester Medical Center in anticipation of needing to transfer patients out to other facilities,” said Grohs.
Grohs said responding to a mass casualty incident is much different than a typical 911 call. "There's a lot of moving parts. Organization, keeping it organized, is crucial. There's a fairly rigid command structure. Patients do need to be triaged,” said Grohs.
He said training is conducted periodically throughout the year: "One of the things we worked at last week was the proper staging of units and ambulances. Of course, you don't want five ambulances converging right on top of the scene which is already a fairly complex and confusing scene."