09/16/10 68 W, 1 I - + 6 - 6 Props at Twilight

Here's a high-dynamic range (HDR) image of a sunset on Garner Station Boulevard, and featuring the props from this week's big honkin' haz-mat drill. The third and last day starts tomorrow. Drill pics from Lee Wilson forthcoming. This picture was made with a Canon Digital Rebel XT saved as Canon RAW, and converted to HDR using PhotoMatrix Pro 3.0. Click once or twice to enlarge.

Good pic Mike… and a great heads up on tomorrow’s scenario! My that tanker looks familiar! See you there(?)
A.C. Rich - 09/16/10 - 22:14

Yikes, don’t want to spill the beans! We’ll restore the photo tomorrow night.
Legeros - 09/16/10 - 22:20

It’s OK, we already know what the scenario is anyway :-)
A.C. Rich - 09/16/10 - 22:28

If only this could have been accomplished without taking 4 of the busiest EMS units out of service during a busy Friday morning/afternoon. I would have thought real calls would be more of a priority than a training exercise but clearly I was wrong.
Joey - 09/18/10 - 07:59

Joey, rest assured that there are sufficient EMS units in the system to take a few out for training without adversely impacting the service provided to the citizens. That’s why the training takes place in the morning and early afternoon, before the system gets really busy. Just like the fire service, the EMS system has the capacity to engage in a little bit of on-duty training.
CH100 - 09/18/10 - 08:50

Oh yes, and had it become necessary, all those units could have been pulled and put back in to service in a heartbeat – just like all the hazmat vehicles and engine companies that participated.
CH100 - 09/18/10 - 08:53

And which happened on Wednesday on the fire side, when haz-mat units left the exercise to respond to an incident in North Raleigh…
Legeros - 09/18/10 - 09:06

Here’s my problem with it. The EMS units covering most of West Raleigh, one of the downtown trucks and one of the Garner area trucks were all out of service at the same time. All of the trucks have overlapping primary response areas. It appears no plans were made before hand in order to arrange other units to cover these areas during this time. It was left to RWECC to see the holes and send coverage as usual. A couple problems 1) this is not always the quickest way as it can take several minutes before units are dispatched to coverage 2) the units that would have been the next in for coverage we also out of service for the event and thus units sent for coverage where further away than normal.

This would be an unavoidable issue during large scale incidents but in no way should this have happened for a prearranged training exercise. Maybe coverage should have been worked out prior to the exercise or units sent to it should have been picked from a different areas and not districts that overlapped. Additionally, I can think of no busier place in the county than downtown Raleigh and the NC State during Friday mornings and early afternoons. As evidence of this you can go look at all the units bouncing around coverage and calls in these areas yesterday. Maybe your understanding of “busy” and mine are different but I would consider anytime coverage has to be arranged for an area for hours on end to be busy. I don’t have any experience as an officer in EMS but I do have some common sense.
Joey - 09/18/10 - 14:21

The way that we rearrange units is through RWECC – that’s not a deficiency, that’s by design – RWECC manages the real-time deployment of EMS units. And since there are no “districts” (certainly none that overlapped)in EMS operations, I’m not sure where you’re coming from. Our system is a dynamic one, by design – that means we move units around whenever and wherever they are needed. And truth be known, you really don’t have any idea of what arrangements were made in advance. Those responsible for the system knew exactly what was happening, were monitoring on a minute by minute basis, and until the hazmat incident went down in North Raleigh no interventions were required. We don’t regard units “bouncing around” as a bad thing – that’s how we’ve designed the EMS system to work, with AVL and coverage maps and all. This was a Raleigh drill that happened in Raleigh and Garner – Raleigh and Garner fire units participated, and Raleigh and Garner – based EMS units participated. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Last, mornings and early afternoons are not the busy times for the EMS system – it’s afternoon and early evening for us, and the EMS portions of the drill were pretty much wrapped up by lunch. Sorry it made you unhappy, but you can expect to see more on-duty training activities going forward.
CH100 - 09/18/10 - 20:50

The issue of no “districts” is one purely of semantics, units have an area that the primarily stay in or around and are sent to the calls in that area. Perhaps I should be more careful with word choice if we are going to play this game. Let us say more specifically that there is a truck that typically (clearly it is not in a “district”) is first in to calls to in an area, and then the next closest truck, again typically, responds to the next call in that area and so on. I fail to see how having the 1st, 2nd and 3rd in units that “typically respond” to an area out of service at the same time doesn’t impact response times. I’m sorry I said overlapped, clearly I misspoke.

Also, I still think my point about it impacting coverage is valid. Anyone listening to the radio traffic could hear units from all over having to move up for coverage and/or run calls in the downtown Raleigh/Garner area during this time. I’m not saying it’s bad RWECC has to move up trucks, I’m saying in a situation that will obviously leave an area deficient of resources that plans should have been made ahead of time. Unless you are saying all units that had to be moved up knew ahead of time what was going on, in which case I ask why they had to be dispatched to the areas and were not already on their way.

I’m also not sure why I don’t feel more comfortable knowing in service trucks will be taken out of service on a more regular basis. I don’t know about you but I think having the most trucks in service that can be at any time is a good thing. There is a much higher density of fire apparatus in a given area than EMS units. First responders will usually be within a reasonable distance but knowing that it will be the 4th in to the district ambulance… sorry I mean to say the 4th ambulance to “typically respond to an area” that has to come transport a patient is slightly disconcerting.
Joey - 09/18/10 - 22:16

It’s not just semantics, Joey – it’s a system that’s intended to do what did during that drill – to fold in on itself and handle all the calls just like any other day. Kind of like what they computer guys call a self-healing network. The EMS system has plenty of capacity – an average UHU of .25, meaning that units are on average available (not on calls) 75% of the time, and even at the busiest time the system rarely falls below 10 units available. Most EMS systems expect to get to “level zero” several times per day, and even during the Conagra event that didn’t happen. If what you’re saying is that all drills should be handled with extra-duty units, or that a drill in Raleigh should be handled with units from Stony Hill and Zebulon, that makes no sense to me. And when a unit from North Raleigh is covering Highwoods or NC state, it’s not the fourth due – it’s the first due to a call downtown. We just don’t put any stock in what ambulance “typically responds” to an area – that’s just an accident of where the unit starts and stops its shift. Fire does on-duty training regularly (and again, not forgetting that all of those units could be put back in service instantly); I can’t see any reason why EMS units shouldn’t do the same, unless you think that having units sitting in their home stations is important. I don’t. Having good training with the people that we expect to work with in a given scenario (in this case, downtown and Garner units on a downtown-Garner exercise) seems like the right thing to do.
CH100 - 09/19/10 - 08:34

You are contradicting yourself. If there are no set response zones and units are able to respond to any location, why does it matter what the units taken out of service for training? By your logic any unit could respond to a hazmat call regardless of where their station is. So why does it make any difference whether a Stony Hill or Zebulon EMS unit trains for the incident if they may very well be the unit that responds to the incident as there are no primary response areas. You say you don’t put stock in where an ambulance typically responds yet you take ambulances from “downtown and Garner units on a downtown-Garner exercise,” that’s a bit of a contradiction.

Additionally, I disagree that is “an accident of where the unit starts and stops its shift” for the location of EMS units. Take Eastern Wake for example, if those units were to start their shifts and start roaming around it would become a huge mess of AVL recommending new coverage assignments for, what, 5 different towns? This process is slow, as it can take minutes for the hole to be seen, it backs up the locutia dispatch of other calls and requires units to travel a significant distance to cover an area (otherwise AVL would not show a lapse in coverage if they were close). It may be true that there are no set districts but there is an element of organization and expectation. Let’s look at NC State as an example because they have 1 unit that “starts and stops its shift” in the area and it’s a simple example.

For whatever physical anomaly EMS 8 seems to catch the first call around NC State. Then the next closest to the area (what is it EMS 4 from the NE side and one of the downtown trucks from the East?)usually get the next call in the area if they are not already on another. Again, I’m going based on what actually happens regardless of not having set response areas. It seems a sort of precedent that these ambulances stay in these areas. When these units are all taken out of service at the same time it leaves a hole that the AVL system has to compensate for. I think I’ve stated plenty of reasons why this is not a bad system for normal volume related move ups but not ideal for times when a large area is now short on the ambulances that usually respond to the area because of the decision to take them all out of service without prearrange coverage. The fire departments around here tend to make sure that stations are covered during on-duty training, that is before they start training they will have another unit move up to the area from somewhere else to pick up the slack; not rely on coverage after the fact and when calls start coming in. What I’m saying is perhaps this would be the prudent move for the EMS side of things, instead of relying on the AVL system to respond to the stresses placed by the on-duty training, they should plan ahead.
Joey - 09/19/10 - 10:52

I don’t see that as being contradictory. As you said, units are more likely to respond to calls near where they start and stop their shifts.

If you believe in “train as you fight and fight as you train” then when you take units out of the system to respond to a drill, you let the rest of the system respond as it would if that drill were a real event. At least that was our decision. Everybody gets practice just as if it were a replay of ConAgra or EQ, not just the trucks participating in the hands on events.

I respect your right to disagree, but we rely on the AVL system to handle our real world urgencies, so we decided to allow it to respond to our drill-based urgencies as well. For one, I think that the folks at RWECC do a great job with it every day and did so over the three days of the hazmat drill.
CH100 - 09/20/10 - 18:16


Would you say that units downtown have the same right to training as units in other areas? Considering that NC 96 runs through Wake County from Zebulon to the Franklin County line, crossing 2, if not 3 primary response areas, would it not be an acceptable practice to pull units from all areas for this type of training?

I totally agree with you, in that any unit in the system can get a call anywhere. Having been a part of this system in the past, it was one thing I liked, that I got to respond to a variety of areas and see a different side of the picture all the time. But, I do agree in part with Joey. To take only certain units and conduct this training doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, when any unit can get a call anywhere. To me, it would be more prudent to allow a wider range of units to conduct the training and “spread the wealth,” so to speak.

I do want to thank you for coming on here and being willing to explain and listen to another side of the coin… it’s very refreshing for a chief to be willing to do that.
CJS - 09/21/10 - 06:26

It was one event that lasted three days, so three sets of crews got to train. Next time,with rotations and different days, different people will be involved. If they’d have run the scenario 6 or 9 times, we’d have had different arrangements. Hey, maybe some of the fire departments besides Raleigh will host major drills, and units nearby them can participate too, including the contract agencies. I’d really like to see that – we don’t get enough opportunties to train together for the unusual events that we will ultimately have to face. We can have “the big one” anywhere – in fact, more than half the major events that I can remember did not happen in Raleigh – EQ, ConAgra, the Gulf Hurricane relocations…..everybody needs to be ready for the big dance!
CH100 - 09/21/10 - 07:31

Good comments. While I have my issues with AVL and all (not the concept per se, but the way it is implemented, but that is for another day), I do like the concept of ‘on-duty training’. There is a certain stigma attached to taking units out of service in a lot of areas for it, but it is how you really learn things that you need to know.

For those that brought it up, those that cling to it, and those that are trying to tear it down- no matter what, there will always be a ‘district’ or ‘first due area’ mentality present in varying degrees. No amount of whatever is going to change that. At least not in mine, CH100’s, or even MD1’s lifetime. It’s human nature. I am a responder in this county and I have my comfort zone. Get me out of it and I get, well, antsy because I am not familiar with the locations (MARVLIS does play tricks on you…I have the screen shots to prove it…properly edited for HIPPA purposes), the first responders (yes, you guys are different in different parts of the county), and other factors come into play. It’s not change, it’s human nature.

But back to on-duty training- it’s a good thing. We did the active shooter program on an off-duty training day, and it helped, but it was WAY different than the real thing. I think the on-duty drills add the sense of realism, in that, yes, we have to move units around (me? I think we are short anyway) and we see what our capabilities TRULY are. CH100 says that our busy times are afternoon and evening. So can we handle this during those times? Could we handle two significant events during those time periods? Could we really handle two significant events at 0230, which over my career has been when 95% of those events occur. I for one would like to know.

And another thing, which someone touched on, as it relates to AVL. You guys know where I work (for those that don’t, it’s the area bordered pretty much by Macedonia, Upchurch, Green Level, and Bonsal). As a part of the system, we are responsible for a lot of stuff outside of our district, first due, primary, or comfort zone. We don’t get that training. It’s not enough to present it in a PowerPoint or write it up in a protocol. It’s not enough to cover it in EMS CME (callback) once in a while. We (and everyone) has to practice it. It has to be practiced more often than we are now. We don’t have any high-rises in my comfort zone, but it is entirely feasible that the first in units for a high rise incident in Raleigh (or anywhere) could be my two ambulances. So yes, it does make sense to pull the perimeter units in for drills like this, since we may well have to do it. The crews that participated hopefully gained a lot of good experience and knowledge, but it simply is not good enough to do one drill. My units may be first in on this type of situation, and if they are not ‘totally competent’ as someone said to me, who’s fault is it?

Two things occur with on-duty drills like this. First, we get good experience that we can apply. There is no substitute for that. Period. We just cannot continue to do the ‘one drill every so often’ thing that only a few get to participate in. It’s expensive, yes, but look at the alternative.

Second, if the system cannot handle it, then we need to see that, too. Can the system handle one or two multiple patient events in the late afternoon? Or how about two hours after the last peak load units go home? If not, then we really need to know that now.
DJ - 09/21/10 - 10:29

Oh yeah, and it makes really good sense to do these over multiple days. It doesn’t do any good for B shift to get the drill, because you know the real thing is NOT going to happen on a B shift day.
DJ - 09/21/10 - 10:33

Chief and DJ –

Thank you for the excellent info and viewpoints. I appreciate your candor on this subject.

Perhaps, in the next little while, since I am going through the current assessment process, I will get the chance to take part in this training firsthand, and not just sit on the sidelines.
CJS - 09/21/10 - 23:36

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