First year paramedic students had a taste of what they will face after graduating when they took part in a mock-up of a major incident held in the University’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR).

The IRR, with its plethora of engineering equipment, was the ideal place to stage the scenario of the aftermath of an explosion in an industrial setting. Students took turns to play victims of the explosion alongside University staff, and they were joined by a ‘team’ of mannequins that could be altered to replicate the kind of catastrophic injuries that paramedics could expect to see at such an incident.

The MSc in Paramedic Science only welcomed its first cohort in 2019, so while that intake is nearing the end of their degrees, those in their first year of the BSc programme were the first to take part in a mock-up incident at the University.

It had been hoped to stage the incident in 2020 or 2021, and while the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably delayed the staging, paramedic science lecturer Ash Scaife and his colleagues were able to devise the set-up thoroughly within all the necessary COVID restrictions.

Two student paramedics with a mannequin Two student paramedics lean over one of the mannequins that can be altered to accurately mimic injury victims.

“The scenario was that we would be attending an incident at an industrial unit,” says Ash. “There had been an explosion, so there would be blast-type injuries, catastrophic bleed-type injuries, severe burns and limbs missing.

“We used our mannequins as they have detachable limbs, and fake blood. Lecturers and staff also mimicked casualties themselves, and we split the students into two groups so they could play victims as well as carrying out their paramedic duties on the other group. They made it realistic by being a bit confused and disorientated, and by getting involved and being a nuisance.

“They all thoroughly enjoyed getting into character, and the feedback about the whole set-up and what they have learned from it has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The IRR proved to be the perfect place to stage the mock-up, with its large pieces of equipment that could be moved into awkward settings resulting in the student paramedics working in confined spaces and having to clamber over or through obstructions to reach the casualties.

An injury mannequin lies across some railway equipment Mannequins were deployed around equipment to mimic the kind of awkward spaces paramedics will have to work in while attending incidents.

Taking students out of their comfort zone

“It was about how to deal with a major incident, and putting the students in a slightly uncomfortable environment where pressures were high with mass casualties. This was the first time they had gone into a situation like that.

“IRR made the space inaccessible, by leaving bits of equipment on walkways and we asked that they didn’t clean up from the previous day. This meant that they had oil around, plus some muck, some other obstructions, which left us with a few confined spaces. We wanted to make it as uncomfortable for the students as we could.”

“Rebecca Knight and Zach Davies, two of our lecturer practitioners were brilliant in placing casualties into certain positions in confined spaces under the railway equipment, and there were cards that verbalised injuries along with the patients’ heart and respiratory rates.

“The staff and student casualties acted confused or were even screaming. In that situation, you can have people that are screaming at you from different areas but if there is someone who is not responding, you have to deal with the person as they may have the most severe injuries. The scenario tested students on how to deal with these difficult situations that they will face as paramedics.”

A group of student paramedics outside the Institute of Railway Research The students paramedics were briefed by staff as to what to expect inside the IRR

Barnaby Bryce, Senior Test Applications Engineer at the IRR, said, “We were happy that we could provide an authentic industrial environment for the simulation. For those in the IRR that I managed to warn in advance of the highly realistic emergency scenario, the disruption to normal activities was minimal.

However, I did feel slightly sorry for the member of staff whose office I missed and whose first knowledge of the simulation were the screams for help and a lab full of bodies surrounded by paramedics and blood!

“The paramedic school carried out their activities smoothly and professionally, they left the area as they found it, and we would welcome them to repeat the exercise in the future.”

Following the success of this first disaster scenario, Ash and the paramedic team are already planning for another mock-up on campus.

“We had a few strange looks as we carried the injury mannequins around campus, but the students who took part really enjoyed the fake blood, the injuries and the pressure we put them under. We’re considering going bigger on the next one and maybe including students from drama and media to add to the realism.”

The mock-up was helped by the contribution of Dwain Longley, area operations manager at Yorkshire Ambulance Service, whose expertise in major incident management prepared the students prior to the exercise while he was also on hand to debrief the students post incident.

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