In the world of industrial emergency response, it takes a special kind of person to be willing to hang from a rope at extreme elevations to rescue those in need. Group these types of individuals together into a team and give them enough time to hone their skills and a squad can be formed that is capable of perfection. Pit these teams against each other in a competitive setting and expect sparks to fly as they attempt to prove who is best in their craft. However, at the annual IRECA conference held in Charlotte, North Carolina this past June, it was shown that when these same competitive teams are presented with a situation where they must work together to help victims in a mass casualty, they can quickly join into a cohesive force and accomplish amazing results.
This year’s conference was held in Charlotte, NC, in June 2014. Participants engaged in competitions involving threemember basic life support, four-member basic life support and technical rescue, and seven-member technical rescue teams. The variety of these competitions allowed many different types of individuals to compete; from the medical professional, to the industrial worker, to the high school student, there was something for each.
IRECA, which stands for the International Rescue and Emergency Care Association, is an organization with a long and impressive history. Established in 1948, they have provided the international community each year with emergency care education through a hosted conference held in various locations throughout the United States and Canada. In addition to seminars and training, their conferences also provide both civil and private organizations with judged competitions. In order to prepare for the competition teams engage in many hours of training at home. The stress of competition creates Emergency Medical Responders, EMT’s, Paramedics and Rope Rescue Teams that are ready for the challenges of real emergencies.
Captain Marlo Reyes of the Valero Benicia Refinery rescue team sums it up. “There is no more realistic training to get you ready for the real world than what we do to get ready for this competition. Each team member is judged and is seen by the spectators. There is no place to hide. Each member wants to make sure they don’t let the team down and they realize they are representing their company. That pressure is second only to a real rescue.”
The week of the conference is hectic. After meetings on Monday to notify teams of the location of the competition and to discuss any special situations that could arise, the First Response Rescue Challenge kicked off the next day at the Gaston College training grounds. In this challenge, teams limited to four responders are required to show their skills in both the technical rescue and medical care.
Teams rotated through an assortment of scenarios. In this competition, participants must be fully prepared to handle situations that vary from a vertical lower with rescue rope, a confined space rescue, and even a childbirth. One scenario involved the packaging of a patient requiring rescue from a confined space. It included application of an advanced airway and the setup of a helicopter landing zone. Rescuers must come ready to be challenged in a variety of ways
Competition organizer and board member Obie Cambre, from Exxon Mobil Refinery in Baton Rogue, LA remarked, “This is reality. These small teams are what you can expect to see in the middle of the night at a refinery.” He added, “This competition also allows you to develop your new leaders in your organization. Many of them move on to positions such as captain of a technical rescue team or even maintenance or operations supervisor.” Cambre believes this is because the position promotes critical thinking and leadership skills. The truth of this is evident for instance at the Valero Benicia Refinery. At that facility the Refinery Manager is a former IRECA rescue competitor and captain.
On Wednesday, IRECA used the Sheraton Charlotte Airport Hotel as its site for the next event, the Basic Life Support Challenge. Teams of three medical responders were given three scenarios and a written test with which to prove who was the best for 2014. In this competition the diversity of the participants provides a special sense of camaraderie. Refinery workers are competing next to youth competitors as well as city paramedics and first responders. All strive to be perfect in their care for the sick and injured utilizing EMT and First Responder skills.
Of special note is the youth category of the BLS Challenge. This part of IRECA is a special place where young people are introduced to a future in emergency response and medicine. Eighteen members of Osseo Opportunities in Healthcare program (OEC program) as well as 6 former members who have since moved on to college made the bus trip from Minnesota to North Carolina to compete and to volunteer. Working with the young people is a treat to many of the older participants. Their energy gives freshness to the conference. Many that are in the program move on to careers as EMT’s, nurses and physicians.
The final competition of the week is in the Technical Rescue Challenge. Five teams of seven each competed in five scenarios. Past competitions have been held in locations as varied as a beet processing plant and a retired US Navy aircraft carrier. This year the site was the Charlotte Motor Speedway. While the engines of a few race cars roared in the background, teams used the empty stands, stairwells, and other areas to show their skills in packaging patients and transporting them to a designated care station.
It was a full day of activity in the North Carolina summer sun. Competitors had to be knowledgeable as well as fit. The patient in this type of competition is rarely in an easily accessible spot. Skills demonstrated included rescue knots, mechanical advantage systems, packaging in a stokes basket, rappel, and pick-off techniques.
In the Technical Rescue challenge the competitors are very focused. Five refineries compete and bragging rights for the year are at stake. From the time they unload their equipment to when they line up to receive the first scenario, game faces are on. Many of the competitors have been on a team for years and know each other well, yet pleasantries are saved until after the competition is complete.
It was because of this that former IRECA president Gary Leafblad was unsure about the idea of a mass casualty exercise after competition on the final day of the conference. Current President Reggie Nalley and Technical Rescue Chairman Tom Danielson from Conoco Phillips 66 Refinery in New Jersey thought that a final scenario involving all the teams working together in an incident command system would be a great way to end the week. Gary was understandably worried about the outcome of asking intense competitors to work together but was intrigued by the possibilities.
Thanks to some great cooperation between the technical rescue side and the BLS competition side of the conference the stage was set in a section of the stands overlooking the track. BLS officials Paul Wilson, Jenny Dimitroff, Lauren Larson and Erwin Villar created simulation makeup and injuries for the patients. Youth competitors and team family members volunteered to participate as victims. The simulated event was a lighting strike in the stadium involving numerous race spectators with serious injuries. Some could be walked out but most would require patient packaging and rope rescue tactics to be removed from the hot zone to triage sites.
Captain John Holloway of Chevron Refinery Cedar Bayou was appointed incident commander. Personnel from his refinery as well as the four other captains and their personnel from Exxon Mobil Baytown, Exxon Mobil Baton Rouge, Valero Benicia and Conoco Phillips Bayway were available as resources. These resources were intentionally mixed resulting in California, Louisiana, Texas and New Jersey responders working together.
As information from the size-up came in, the teams were sent out to work sectors of the stands. Despite expected issues with differences in techniques, terms and even at times language, the rescuers worked together. Differences were overcome. One family member observing the scene commented how impressive it was to see them all work together to achieve a common goal of helping the injured.
The final results were hard to believe. A scenario that could have taken hours was completed in just minutes. Gary Leafblad said, “A total of twenty-eight patients were treated, packaged and transported to advanced care in just forty-two minutes.” He added, “This is a testament to the teams and their abilities.”
After the exercise, results for the competition were tallied and announced at the awards banquet. These results can be found on the IRECA website. The real winners however are the refinery workers and other members of the public who will receive skilled emergency care from the men, women and youth of IRECA because of the training involved to prepare for this conference.
IRECA will host their next conference in Houston, TX, June 22 through 27. Go to www.ireca.org for more information.