Collaboration Among Agencies Is Key for First Responders in Event of Mass Disaster


John Gill, above standing in rear at right, led an International Trauma Life Support training session at the Westin Resort and Villas.

Participants practice mobilization skills during the recent International Trauma Life Support training sessions.

Close collaboration between first response agencies would spell the difference between “chaos” and “controlled chaos” in the event of a mass casualty on St. John, according to John Gill, EMT-P.

If anyone has learned lessons about mass casualties lately it is Gill; the city of Boston’s Emergency Medical Services’ Deputy Superintendent. He was one of the first responders on the scene following the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15.

Gill led a weekend-long International Trauma Life Support training session at the Westin Resort and Villas which ran from Friday evening, October 18, through Sunday afternoon, October 20.

Sponsored by St. John EMS Association with support from St. John Rescue, the training session drew 25 participants from a range of local government and non-profit agencies. Among the agencies represented were Schneider Regional Medical Center, V.I. National Park, Department of Education, V.I. Fire Department, Emergency Medical Responders from St. John EMS and St. John Rescue.

The residents spent the weekend being updated on the latest skills sets in emergency response to trauma with hands-on trainings.

While the recent training is actually the third International Trauma Life Support session hosted on St. John, organizers decided this year to include a focus on mass casualties, explained Carol Beckowitz of St. John EMS Association.

“This is the third International Trauma Life Support training session which St. John EMS Association has organized on St. John and this time we decided to do something a little different,” said Beckowitz. “In light of the fact that there have been so many natural and man-made disasters happening in the states where you have mass casualties, we brought someone on who has recent real life experience with one of those.”

Gill opened the session with a presentation on Friday evening, October 18, detailing “Lessons Learned from the Boston Marathon Bombing.”

“People were very receptive to the presentation,” said Gill. “I talked about the injuries we saw, the number of injuries we saw, the amount of patients we had. I impressed upon everyone the importance of training for all different kinds of injuries.”

Many in the room for Gill’s presentation will likely not soon forget the images he displayed.

“There were a lot of photographs of the injuries we saw and we saw a lot of lower limb injuries that day,” said Gill. “The graphic nature definitely impressed upon people the need to prepare for all types of incidents.”

While it seems unlikely that a mass casualty on the scale of the Boston Marathon Bombing would occur on St. John, first responders must be prepared for anything, Gill explained.

“Even though it is not likely that a bombing incident with 200 people will occur on a little island, what gets people in trouble is that ‘it can’t happen here’ mentality,” he said.

Local first responders would have their hands more than full with only a dozen patients, Gill added.
“With 15 people in a safari taxi, if there was an incident that would amount to a mass casualty here,” he said.

Gill also discussed the importance of collaborating with different agencies in the event of a disaster, he explained.

“In my presentation, I impressed upon everyone the concept of training with different agencies,” said Gill. “We were able to handle 200 patients because of the incident command system that we had practiced together.”

“St. John Rescue, EMS, Fire, Coast Guard, VINP, all these agencies need to get together and plan some kind of event that helps them train for a mass disaster,” said Gill. “One agency can not respond alone. It takes collaboration.”

Back in Boston, first responders host an annual exercise at Logan International Airport to train with different agencies, Gill explained.

“We annually do something at Logan Airport and that is how we developed and how we practice the incident command system,” said the Boston EMS Deputy Superintendent. “It’s almost like a planned mock disaster and helps people in different agencies plan how they would respond and work together. The incident command system sets up different zones and allows us to collaborate and work together effectively.”

With so many different agencies working together at the recent training session, collaboration has already begun, explained Gill.

“But it has to continue,” he said. “I think the best thing here would be for someone to be motivated and committed to getting all of these responders together. Each group needs to do their own training of course.”

“But in the event of  a larger scale incident, they need to train together as well,” said Gill. “You have to have everyone on the same page.”

Planning is key in the event of a mass disaster, Gill explained.

“If you plan for a mass casualty incident and you train for a mass casualty incident, when it does happen you are better prepared to handle it,” said Gill. “If you don’t prepare and you don’t train and you get a major incident it is the difference between chaos as opposed to controlled chaos.”

In addition to delivering the opening presentation on Friday evening, Gill also led the training session on Saturday, October 19. He showed participants advanced airway management techniques as well as the finer points of hare traction splints for lower limb fractures.