Theater students volunteer ‘contamination’ for hospital drill
Published November 12, 2013
WEST BLOOMFIELD — Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital tackles emergency preparation with preparedness drills throughout the year, which is necessary in order to pass their audit to maintain their license to treat patients. Theater students from West Bloomfield High School offered to act as contaminated patients Oct. 17, depicting realistic hazards that included constricted breathing, skin burns and blindness from toxic fumes.
The hazards most likely to occur in West Bloomfield and Oakland County — flooding and power outages — provide a patient surge to the staff, said Ron Hnilica, manager of security, emergency preparedness and parking services at the hospital. This year, the hospital held a mock flooding and decontamination exercise in which pipes leading to a diesel tank broke, exposing the “patients” to fumes and the diesel fuel, itself.
One of the things they learned during Hurricane Katrina was that diesel exposure to the skin will cause blisters; plus, the fumes coming off the water and entering people’s lungs can cause other issues, he said.
Raina Pintamo, an 11th-grade drama student cast in this year’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” portrayed a middle-aged woman who had been in contact with the diesel fuel.
“I really enjoyed that they made it seem that it was an actual thing that was happening,” she said. “They didn’t joke around a lot, and they took all the measures that they would take in that contamination.”
Pintamo said that prior to the drill, she was provided with a character description of the middle-aged woman and that coming in contact with the fuel caused burning of the eyes, temporary blindness and breathing complications.
“Basically, I had to walk around with no idea where I was going. I was blinking a lot and stumbled and vocally told them, ‘I can’t see,’” she said. “I was really scared and freaking out a little bit when I first went in there.”
The West Bloomfield drama students have volunteered as “patients” for three years, participating in drills that assist the hospital and give the actors a unique performing experience, said Micah Greene, director of the high school’s theater arts program. The believable roles and realistic training allows the students a chance to work on their improvisation skills and improve their performances, he added.
To ensure a realistic setting, the hospital set up stretchers and tents with showers for the students outside the hospital; the students were also hosed down, sanitizing and removing fuel.
“A lot of it was just them asking questions, which I thought was interesting,” Pintamo said. “They kept asking different questions over and over again. … A lot of communication was going on between the doctors, nurses and the people working together.”
Hnilica said that the treatment team and volunteers debriefed and discussed an after-action report, which details the hospital staff’s strong points of the exercise, as well as areas of improvement, following the drill.
Providing the hospital with their observations, the students offered their points of view on how the victims were treated, and according to Hnilica, the doctors said that the students performed well as panic victims.
“I think just the fact that they were working so well together as a team really made it successful,” Pintamo said.
The hospital ran two mock flooding dills — one with the students and one with adult volunteers the night before for the after-hours staff.
“You always have drills. Hopefully, you never have to use them, but you want to be ready if you do,” Hnilica said.
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