One of the primary missions of the National Guard is to support civil authorities in disaster response, and the Wyoming Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment and the state’s health department recently took some of their first steps together in strengthening that commitment.
The Wyoming Health Department received surplus portable medical stations from the federal government about three years ago. The stations are packed in crates and each contains beds, medical and administrative supplies and equipment to provide care for 50 patients in a disaster situation. They are currently stored in several counties in the state, and ready to transport where needed.
While the state has five of the kits in its inventory, it hasn’t been clear how it could put them to use.
“The problem is, the health department isn’t staffed with doctors and other medical personnel to deploy with the equipment and to use it to its full potential,” explained Maj. Steven Gienapp, Med Det’s deputy commander of administration, and a full time department of health emergency medical services manager. “I thought to myself, ‘Med Det could do this.’”
He started the wheels rolling on the idea, and like most government work, the process has evolved slowly, but on Aug. 15, at Camp Guernsey, Med Det doctors, nurses, and physician assistants, along with personnel from the department of health, the American Red Cross and even the Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy came together for an inaugural training event.
“It’s kind of like a laboratory for the Guard and department of health to pair up this equipment and the medical staff to fully utilize it,” Gienapp said. “To use Army-speak for a moment, we’re in the crawl stage of the training. Our main goal is to get our soldiers exposed to the equipment and working with our civilian partners, and for the soldiers to give feedback on what works, and what doesn’t and to make improvements.”
While many Army exercises are scenario-driven, the partners thought it would be best to keep it simple for the first run, and focus on familiarization with the equipment and evaluating its potential for a real-world deployment. The contents of the kits were set up in seven stations at the 213th Regional Training Institute at Guernsey, and Med Det personnel rotated through each station throughout the day.
At the first station, American Red Cross personnel provided support to the event by showing the Army health professionals their techniques for setting up a disaster site that likely would bring medical patients and the general population, without medical needs, into a single facility.
“We showed them how we set up a registration/reception area at a shelter facility and how we triage and then separate patients that may need to be moved to other facilities,” said Gehric Haberstock with Red Cross Disaster Services. The mobile medical stations contain all the necessary equipment and forms for that part of the operation, too.
Moving the equipment to Guernsey from the storage facility in Lander was on the shoulders of county emergency response coordinators and their “strike teams,” like Fremont County’s Traci Foutz, and Goshen/Niobrara County Emergency Response Coordinator Heather Saul, who is also a traditional soldier in the Wyoming Army National Guard.
“We make it happen,” Saul said in reference to moving the two semi-trailers of equipment to wherever it is needed in the state. “I think it’s great seeing all these organizations working together to improve public safety.” She and Foutz thanked Camp Guernsey staff for helping unload the crates from the trucks with a fork lift, a luxury they normally wouldn’t have.
When it came to providing mock patients for the exercise, Gienapp thought the ChalleNGe Academy would be a good place to look. About 20 cadets of Class 37 from the residential program for at-risk youth helped out with the effort.
“They were more than happy to oblige,” Gienapp explained. “Not only are they helping us to make this work, but they are seeing soldiers in a way they may not typically see. Maybe it will spark interest in a career choice to become a professional medical soldier.”
The teenage cadets, some playing much older patients, were assigned various diagnoses and symptoms and the medical staff at each of the seven stations were charged with providing the appropriate care or service at each stop. Gienapp said, they may ramp it up for the next exercise and apply moulage and other effects to increase realism.
“We may just try this with 150 patients next time,” Gienapp said. “I think this is the future of the Guard. We can talk all day about working with civil authorities, but until you put them together like this, it’s just talk. We would rather make mistakes now than when someone’s life is at stake.
“Med Det’s primary mission is to support soldier readiness, but we’re essentially creating a new capacity for Med Det that meets the state mission, too. We have the people and the skill set to do this and perhaps we can shed some light on the fact we are more than just the (physical health assessment) people.”