This time, the mass-casualty response was no drill

Posted Friday, Apr. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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This time, the mass-casualty response was no drill.

All available ambulances.

Code yellow. All hands on deck.

Trauma teams on standby.

Thursday's crash in Irving of a charter bus filled with 43 people bound for a relaxing day in Oklahoma once again tested the area's mass-casualty reflexes. Two people were killed and 41 hurt in the one-vehicle crash on Texas 161 near Belt Line Road.

Firefighters, police, paramedics and hospital personnel, along with state and federal agencies, routinely plan and practice logistics such as how many responders will be needed, what equipment will be available and what type of communication will be used.

On Thursday, less than 10 minutes from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where mass-casualty preparations are all in a day's work, Irving police found a horrific scene when they responded to reports of a bus accident.

The charter bus had struck a rubber barrier on northbound Texas 161, veered left across two lanes and into a grassy area, and slid along a concrete barrier, ending up on its right side, blocking the exit doors, according to Lonny Haschel, a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

Passengers were stacked like pancakes inside, screaming for help, one witness told reporters. "Bodies and blood" were everywhere, Robert Hare, who came upon the scene on his way to work, told KXAS/Channel 5. Fuel was streaming from the bus. Someone was heard on an emergency scanner searching for a patient's missing arm.

"It was a chaotic scene," said Dr. Paul Pepe, an emergency medicine specialist and medical director for the Irving Fire Department. "Rescuers also had to be careful that they were not injured."

Irving police closed Texas 161 while officers set up triage and helped the injured. City firefighters were also at the scene and, in seconds, the call went out for help from nearby fire departments and other agencies.

Within minutes, six fire departments -- from DFW Airport, Grapevine, Grand Prairie, Dallas, Coppell and Farmers Branch -- rushed to help. Other local agencies soon arrived.

A CareFlite air ambulance landed in the southbound lanes to pick up a critically injured patient, and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit bus pulled up to take the less seriously injured to Baylor Medical Center at Irving.

Fifteen people were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the only Level 1 trauma center in Dallas. Parkland was alerted to the crash at 9:25 a.m. and prepared eight trauma teams, each consisting of six trauma surgeons and three orthopedic surgeons, among others, according to Dr. Alex Eastman, interim trauma medical director.

Ready for use, just in case, were 12 operating rooms, 11 critical-care beds, 200 units of blood and five CT scanners, Eastman said.

Population-dense North Texas has seen plenty of mass-casualty incidents, including:

January 2011: 11 people were taken to hospitals after a Fort Worth Transportation Authority bus collided with a car.

Sept. 23, 2005: 23 nursing home patients fleeing Hurricane Rita were killed when the rear wheel of a charter bus caught fire and the vehicle burst into flames in south Dallas County.

July 3, 1994: 12 children and two adults were killed when a van driven by a California woman was struck by a tractor-trailer and burst into flames in Weatherford.

1985 and 1988: Two jet crashes at DFW killed more than 100.

The constant training by first responders allowed the quick treatment of passengers Thursday, Pepe said. "Their job was to look for the most critical and then go from there," he said. "The training paid off."

Haschel agreed.

"Mutual-aid requests went out quickly today. And everyone came right away."

Staff writer Dustin Dangli and researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.

Domingo Ramirez Jr.,

817-390-7763

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