FORT DRUM, N.Y. — The gunshots and wounds were fake, but the response by area emergency personnel was real during a mass-casualty drill Thursday at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.
Thursday’s scenario called for local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency crews to locate a gunman who shot 10 people enjoying a day off with a barbecue. After securing the scene, medical crews were tasked with moving and treating the gunman’s victims at area hospitals.
“We do this to be prepared, so that if it does happen here, we have very well-synchronized and coordinated teams,” said John P. Simard, Fort Drum’s exercise and plans officer. He added that the exercise was relevant, given recent shooting incidents like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December.
Responders were given dozens of surprise additions to the training throughout the day, such as the placement of materials that could be used to make explosives, and a threatening phone call that helped law enforcement officers find the gunman, who was holed up in a barracks with a hostage.
The exercise began at 8:30 a.m. Thursday with a 911 call from one of the victims, describing the shooting. The 10 soldiers playing the wounded suffered various injuries from the fictional gunshots, ranging from abdominal damage to an eye injury.
Fort Drum police responded first to the scene, ensuring that the gunman, who started the exercise in his barracks hideout, was away from the scene. With the area cleared, ambulance crews arrived and placed tags on the wounded that listed the extent of the injuries and determined where the patients could be sent for treatment.
As law enforcement agencies proceeded with their search for the gunman, the victims were sent to area hospitals. Five were taken to Carthage Area Hospital, four were taken to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, and one was flown by helicopter to Upstate Medical University, Syracuse.
Uncertain how many victims they would receive, staff at Samaritan’s Emergency Department set up three tarps of varying colors in case triage was needed. As victims arrived, they were quickly maneuvered into rooms for treatment. With one role player in critical condition, the medical staff readied paperwork to move him to an operating room.
“An average day, we normally don’t get these kind of mass-casualty events,” said Stephen G. Falk, Samaritan’s emergency manager. “You might have a car accident on 81 where it involves a few patients, but to have a massive amount of patients respond at one time, it’s a stress to our system, and something that we need to exercise.”
Mr. Falk said that the hospital has helped Fort Drum with its response to mass-casualty incidents, such as a 2003 Black Hawk crash that killed 11 of the 13 soldiers on board.
“These events can happen, they’ve happened in the past, and we need to test our staff’s response, get them prepared,” Mr. Falk said. “This is the way we do that.”