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Disaster exercise held at county park

THREE FIREFIGHTERS pulled a young victim out of a Woodford County school bus Saturday at the Woodford County Park. The exercise, which was a simulation of a school bus being hit by a train, was the result of more than three months of planning. (Photo by John McGary)

BUS DRIVER Melvin Weber suffered a serious injury when the bus he was driving was pushed onto train tracks and struck by a train. Later Weber, who volunteered for the disaster exercise, joked, "They needed a bald-headed man for the bus driver." (Photo by John McGary)

At 10:20 a.m. Saturday, a school bus was rear-ended and pushed onto a train track at the Woodford County Park, then struck by a train. Three people were killed and a total of nearly 60 passengers in both vehicles were injured, some badly. Emergency crews from Woodford, Anderson and Madison counties were on the scene within minutes, pulling victims out and keeping them stable until they could take them to local hospitals. Of course, it was all an exercise. "The benefit of a live drill is we find the weaknesses and no patients suffer from that," said Woodford County Ambulance Director Freeman Bailey, who said he'd been putting the exercise together for three-and-a-half months. "We are practicing to ... find out where we can make things better - to make (sure), in a real-live event, it goes a lot quicker and smoother." A mutual aid agreement was activated and emergency teams from Woodford, Madison and Scott counties (already on scene) pitched in. On a black tarpaulin were two people aboard the bus who were dead when the first ambulances arrived. Other victims, with frighteningly realistic wounds created by moulage, were carried to other tarps for an eventual (and real-life) ride by ambulance to Bluegrass Community Hospital. First responders were able to look at the various wounds and determine their severity and whether the injured person needed an immediate trip to a hospital or, if necessary, could wait. "The femur fractures - it's not something they have to guess (about). They look and see a bone sticking out. They know how they have to treat that. It makes our guys have to go that extra step - it gives us that realism," Bailey said. Some of the casualties and others showed off their acting skills, displaying the effects of their injuries or their fear over what would become of their loved ones. In some cases, the responders had to deal with uninjured but hysterical witnesses - as they would if such an accident had really happened. One of the goals of the exercise was to determine how long it would take ambulances to drive to a Lexington hospital, drop the patient, then return to do it again. "If it takes my unit 15 minutes to transport from here to Lexington, that unit then has 15 minutes to get back. So that's a 30-minute window, five minutes in the hospital to drop off the patient. At that point, we're 35 minutes into it, so we don't put that ambulance back in play (in the exercise) until then," Bailey said. Bailey said the exercise showed a few areas that need improvement that will be practiced in a follow-up training event. "We found weaknesses in our transport - how to get the patients off-site quicker, so that will help us," Bailey said. "With 60 patients at one time, that's huge for any service, no matter what size you are. So for us, the event kicked off at 10:20 and it is now 11:05, and all patients are at hospitals and have been treated. So that's pretty remarkable, to be able to transport that many patients out that quick." The morning's exercise ended shortly before noon. After a lunch paid for by donors, folks walked over to a plane left in a field behind Huffman Pavilion. Blue Grass Airport officials conducted another exercise - this one the result of a collision between the plane and a helicopter. A live fire was put out and people who'd been inside the plane were attended to. Bailey said overall, he was pleased with the exercise. "From law enforcement doing the reenactment, the bus garage ... the school board system, transportation was here as well, and everybody working as one unit. When you put this many agencies together at one time and it ran as smooth as it did, that's very satisfying for me," he said.

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