In case of emergency, they’ve got class Hoboken hospital conducts disaster drill; high school EMTs participate

When Hoboken’s newly-named hospital needed to act out an emergency preparedness drill a week ago Tuesday, students from Hoboken High School’s emergency response team got involved, as did students from the high school’s alternative program.

The scenario was a boiler exploding in Hoboken University Medical Center on Willow Avenue, with over a dozen injuries and at least one death.

The students of the Demarest alternative high school program acted out the catastrophe, while members of Hoboken High School’s Emergency Response Team responded to it.

The drill was planned by Hoboken University Medical Center in conjunction with the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and the Hoboken Police and Fire departments.

Playing the victim

The simulation was modeled after an actual boiler explosion that occurred at a hospital in Passaic in 2006, said medical center spokeswomen Nancy Benecki and Kristen Kelly.

Last week’s mock explosion gave HUMC officials a set of similar circumstances to assess their staff’s response to a loss of steam, power, heat, air conditioning and phone lines, plus an added bonus: a car accident directly outside the boiler room.

Demarest students Jason Gonzalez, Priscilla Rodriguez, Aisha Montalvo, Janetsy Millet, and Bianca Camin were among the “injured” in the car accident.

Demarest senior Edwin Rivera had an especially complicated situation to deal with, as he stood pinned by a van against a brick wall, while members of Hoboken High School’s Emergency Rescue Team worked to free him. “They had to hold me so I wouldn’t fall while they moved the car,” he said.

Rivera said he was confident that his ex-classmates would be able to cope well with the situation. “I knew they could do it – that’s my old school,” he said with pride.

Rivera was glad he participated in the drill.

“It was fun, and it was funny too,” he said, as he recalled the moment when the five female members of the rescue squad had to pick him up and put him on a stretcher.

This is just a drill

Hoboken High School’s Emergency Response Team responds to real emergency calls, serving as a secondary rig to the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

“If the Volunteer Ambulance Corps is in service and they have another call, we get the next call,” explained Hoboken High’s Service-Learning Coordinator, Melanie Alberto-Kolmer.

The team currently has five students who respond to emergency calls, Alberto-Kolmer said. These students have all completed EMT, CPR, and First Aid training. They respond to calls during school hours, roughly from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays.

While volunteers from Hoboken High School had acted as victims in past drills, this was the first time that the high school’s Emergency Response Team got to actively participate, said HUMC Director of External Affairs Joan Quigley.

And school officials wanted to make sure both high schools got a chance to take part in the activity. “Because the ERT came from the main high school, we decided to get the alternative high school involved,” Alberto-Kolmer said.

All acted very professionally, officials said.

“We are impressed by the behavior of the kids,” HUMC Director of Security Steve Vaughn said halfway through the drill. “They’re taking it very seriously.”

Medical Director of Care Management at HUMC Dr. Angelo Caprio also commended the students on their actions.

“They are the most professional-acting students I’ve seen,” said Caprio, adding with a smile, “they’re almost too good.”

Mobilizing all resources

The “victims” of the car and boiler room accidents were treated in Assumption Hall. Caprio explained that in case of a disaster, the hall is used as a triage center, since a disaster does not prevent the flow of other injuries and emergencies into the hospital.

“While a disaster is going on, real-life continues too,” Quigley chimed in.

The room, which is a multi-service space used for meetings, can be set up in four minutes and fits 18 stretchers. Dr. George Safran, director of HUMC’s Emergency Room, was the attending physician.

He explained why triage – determining which patients to treat first based on which injuries are more critical – was an important part of the simulation.

“In a disaster you’re always going to be overwhelmed with more patients than resources,” he said. “That’s the reason we do triage. You save the ones you can save first.”

First (class) responders

The drill was also a way for the city’s police, fire, and EMT officials to measure their response to a disaster, and Hoboken High School’s Emergency Rescue Team worked alongside all of them.

“It was very scary,” confessed senior Talisha Williams. “But you’ve gotta snap out of it and do what you’ve gotta do.”

Junior Tiffany Williams agreed that the situation was initially little overwhelming. “There were a lot of patients and we didn’t know who to go to first,” she said.

But she and her team responded to a fractured femur, a concussion, and a head and spinal injury.

“They did an amazing job,” said Hoboken High School teacher Pat Ciriello, who has ridden along with the team on many of their emergency calls. “We always think of them as our children. Today they were acting like adults,” he said proudly.

Tiffany and Talisha both said they would like to continue working as first responders.

Tiffany, who graduates this year, said she wants to pursue a career as a paramedic. Talisha, who has a year left to go, said she is interested in becoming a firefighter. She said that she enjoyed the rewards of assisting people in emergencies.

“It’s exciting knowing what you’re doing is actually helping people,” she said.

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