Special exercise gives College of DuPage students a chance to deal with disaster

During a domestic dispute, shots rang out on the College of DuPage campus in Glen Ellyn.

Not to worry, because it was an exercise for COD students training to be first responders and medical professionals.

“From an educational perspective it’s important to do things like this,” said Tom Brady, associate dean and director of the college’s Homeland Security Training Institute.

The scenario acted out in the “street scene” on the ground floor of the Homeland Security Training Center on the campus.

In the scenario, a married couple was having a domestic dispute that turns violent, spilling out into the street outside their apartment.

The husband shoots his wife in the abdomen, a family friend jumps out to escape the fire the father set in the apartment, fracturing both legs, and the couple’s son remains behind, threatened by the fire engulfing the apartment.

The resulting emergency situation provided hands-on training for students in numerous fields of study.

Nursing, surgical technician, nuclear medicine, radiography, and respiratory therapy students participated during the medical phase of the simulation.

But before the patients could be transferred to the facilities in the Health and Sciences Center across the street, students studying to be police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians coped with the immediate aftermath of the shooting and fire.

Communications systems were in place to make the situation as real as possible, and the actors/students in the drama encountered many of the same glitches and hold-ups that might plague professionals in a real emergency.

The nurse dragging the “IV” unit behind the patient has trouble keeping up and even had the apparatus fall over at one point; the medical team is faced with the paperwork mandatory with any patient’s admittance to a hospital or emergency room; the shooting victim’s heart rate suddenly flatlines during the procedure, requiring the shock of atrial fibrillation paddles to keep her alive.

In the end, all the “patients” survive, and the instructors overlooking the exercise put the students through a debriefing to review what the students had learned.

The simulation was the second held at COD and Brady hopes to continually improve the exercise.

“We want to build on it every year,” he said, suggesting that in the future, real-life medical facilities, firefighters and police might be brought into the training.

Brady said he thought the exercise went “fantastic… now they can put it to use in real life.”

He stressed that a simulation of that size, in which six different college departments participated, was only possible because of the new facilities and equipment on campus, pointing out that COD was the first community college in the region to have an actual CAT-scan machine.

“It went wonderful… phenomenal,” nursing professor Larinda Dixon, who helped plan the scenario, said after the exercise.

Dixon said that the event was a chance to take a patient scenario and apply it to real-world situations.

Dixon said that an important part of the exercise was getting students who normally focused only on their own curriculum to see things through the eyes of others in the medical, firefighting and emergency technician fields.

“I want to see how they felt about interacting with others,” she said.

Her colleagues agreed.

“None of us work in isolation,” Vickie Gukenberger, associate dean of nursing, said. “They’re learning how to work collaboratively and share learning.”

She suggested that because the real world experience of first responders requires so much interaction in their daily work, the college might even begin to teach collaboratively, calling it the “wave of the future.”

Jaime Lemens, a COD simulator technician with a background in theater, played the shooting victim and said the students’ performance was excellent.

“I’m noticing that students are very attentive to patients,” she said after the simulation. “They’re very aware of being with the patient.”

Even though the simulation was only an exercise, students felt the pressure of an emergency situation.

“It’s very nerve-wracking,” surgical technician student Kamila Matras from Addison said.

EMT student Will Landeros of West Chicago said he thought the exercise went much better than he anticipated, and nursing student Timothy Clouser from Lombard was struck by the realistic nature of the event.

“It’s interesting to work with the other departments,” he said. “We get clinical training at hospitals, but it’s not an emergency situation.”

Like other participants, Clouser noted the collaborative nature of the event and the value in learning it.

“You have to know what the other person is doing,” he said.

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