Chances are you weren’t aware that around noon today, not far from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, where a few hundred people were attending mass, a SWAT team busted a methamphetamine lab, a woman in the lab was overdosing, her infant child died of an overdose—when the meth stuffed in the child’s diaper leaked and was absorbed in the baby’s body—the meth lab exploded, burning one of the SWAT team members, and a man with an excellent sense of humor and paint-resistant skin was shot trying to escape from the scene, making it very difficult for paramedics who happened to be at the scene to care for all the bodies, real and manufactured, dropping around them.
Speaking of which: the scene, in a model home along Cypress Point Parkway (that’s what model homes have been reduced to these days: stage sets), was repeated about 10 times, with the same men and women experiencing their overdoses, getting burned and shot, though the baby involved was made of plastic, which made replicating its death much easier.
And that was just one of eight scenes of mayhem Flagler County Fire Rescue organized as part of its second annual 24-hour EMS competition designed to hone emergency life support skills in high-intensity scenarios that replicate as closely as possible the dangers and tensions and chaos of scenes paramedic often encounter. Scenarios intentionally exaggerate the crises, and the competitors love it, because, in the words of Jeff Lazzeri, “it puts us in a situation that’s outside of the norm, more than you’ll ever get in real life, so when you get a real-life call, you’re prepared for anything.”
Lazzeri and his teammates from Boca Raton’s A Team happens to be the defending champion: Boca Raton sent two teams last year, as it did this year, and won first and second place last year. Lazzeri’s team was all business as it tackled the SWAT scene, joking around very little compared to the Port Orange team that had preceded it, whose Colleen Fitchett mixed business and stand-up throughout her routine, with many promptings from one of the fake victims.
“I don’t know how to work your shit,” Fitchett said in cracked-up frustration, trying to unfasten the elaborate protective helmet on Dennis Lashbrook, the SWAT team member who’d just come out with burns. Lashbrook happens to be a Flagler Beach police officer who’s also on the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team. Moments later Fitchett rushes off to tend to the guy who’s been shot (with paintball, by the way, which can get old when he’s getting shot by a half dozen men every half hour or so). That meth-addled victim is played by Brady Barry, a firefighter-paramedic with Flagler County Fire Rescue, whose version of a gunshot victim was somewhere between Richard Lewis and the late Sam Kinison. He had no problem insulting the help, either.
“Can you call 911?” victim-Barry yelled out as Fitchett was figuring out his wound. “Doogie Howser uisn;t doing anything here.”
“I am 911,” Fitchett throws back.
“It hurts. They shot me. Do something. Why are you taking so long?” He screams for a cell phone to call real paramedics.
“Quit screaming,” she orders. He ignores her.
Soon enough, a judge calls time, after 10 minutes, and the scene is over. “I love you guys,” was Fitchett’s farewell.
Even Don Petito, the Flagler County fire chief, who’d witnessed the whole thing, was taken in. “It was pretty exciting. Pretty fun,” he said. “This is full-scale training. It involves Sheriff’s deputies, paramedics, firefighters, because it’s a meth lab, so that’s one good aspect of it. The other is, it’s realistic. This could happen anywhere, and more and more with the downturn of the economic situation, you’ll see more and more of these meth labs popping up.”
“You can’t get this kind of training anywhere,” Petito continued. “That’s why so many people want to come here to train. You’re getting this realistic training. You’re treating people, you have a meth lab where the fire department and the SWAT team would be involved in, you have a shooting incident. This is all real stuff that’s happening around the world, so that’s why we’re mimicking those types of scenarios in case it happens here.”
Capt. Paul Bovine has been the SWAT commander since 1999, and has been with the sheriff’s office for 16 years. He was in full gear, along with a half dozen other men, for the day’s exercises. “It keeps the operational readiness of our team because we’re training with our equipment, plus the interagency cooperation that we share between the fire departments and us,” Bovine said. “We deploy SWAT medics on our team, we work hand in hand with the fire department and medics all the time, so this kind of training is invaluable. It’s a big training day for us.”
Funding for the competition is a mixture of sponsorship, fund-raising and the county fire department absorbing some costs, such as the county Fire Flight helicopter’s use in transporting teams to an island and back on the Intracoastal, where one of the scenarios involved a wrecked boat. Three boaters were involved in that one: a drunk boater who’s ejected, another who gets a leg wound, and a third who gets a snake bite. That exercise allowed the county’s new marine rescue unit to be involved and get some training.
Saturday night, the competition started with four scenarios, including a haunted house at the county’s Emergency Operations Center, where one of the guys playing up the scares with a circular saw (firefighter-paramedic James Cosgrove) cut off several of his fingers while someone else was having a heart attack (Dan Driscoll of the Palm Coast Fire Department) and a third person was having an asthma attack (that would have been Allie Kline, wife of Dennis Kline, the paramedic firefighter organizing the competition, and a frequent competitor himself). Night scenarios also featured a homeless camp (in the Hammock, of all places: the organizers have a sense of humor) where drunkards lead to smoke poisoning from someone firing up a barbecue in a tent and another guy getting hit with a two-by-four.
The competition started and ended with dinner on both nights at the Hilton Garden Inn (one of the sponsors of the event), along with Woody’s, Florida Hospital Flagler and Fire Side Training, among others. A list of participants is below, with the first, second and third-place teams following this weekend’s competition at the top of the chart. All but one team are advance life support (ALS) teams.
Photo Gallery: For best viewing, click on one of the images, not the slide-show option.
First Place: Metro Broward Local 3080 – A team combing members of various EMS departments in Broward County. Recent winners of Temple Terrace’s EMS Competition 2011. (1,141 total points.)
Second Place: Boca Raton A Team. Won first place last year. (1,121 points.)
Third Place: Boca Raton B Team. Won second place last year. (1,051 points.)
Port Orange, Fl – Returning from a brief competition hiatus, fourth place finish of last year’s 24 hr competition.
St. John’s County, Fl – Second appearance at the 24hr Competition.
Davie, Fl – First appearance.
Temple Terrace, Fl – First appearance.
Flagler Beach and Bunnell – Very first competition for this newly formed team.
Orlando Medical Institute, Orlando, Fl — A new team making its first appearance. Team is comprised of instructors of EMT and Paramedic classes.
City College, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl – All student team competing in their third competition. First appearance.
EMT Student Team, Palm Coast, Fl – All student team formed specifically for this competition. Three recent graduate EMT students have not taken their certification test, but wanted to gain real world experiences. The only Basic Life Support Team in the competition, which won that category by default.