Staff photo by Allison Potter
Brendan Doyle, left, and Maurice Peacock of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue carry mock accident victim Ben Hartell to the beach after rescuing him from the Masonboro Inlet jetty on Thursday, Sept. 20, during a multi-agency emergency response training exercise.
Fishermen and those walking down at Wrightsville Beach’s south end on the evening of Sept. 20 had a front row seat to the multi-agency, mass victim training exercise led by the Wrightsville Beach Fire and Police departments, and the United States Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach. Altogether the training exercise involved eight other emergency and rescue agencies: Wilmington Fire Department, New Hanover County Fire Department, New Hanover Regional EMS, Ogden/NHC EMS, NHC Emergency Management, Cape Fear Community College and North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.
At 7:30 p.m. the live and simulated victims were put into position on both sides of Masonboro Inlet, with two Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue lifeguards on the south end jetty rocks, two ocean rescue buoys floating by the Masonboro Island jetty with glow sticks attached, and live victims on both the south end beach and the Banks Channel side of Masonboro Island. The scene was designed to represent some of the usual scenarios emergency responders encounter in water rescues like boats crashing into the south end jetty, propeller lacerations and inexperienced swimmers who venture too far out into the inlet.
Around 8 p.m. those observing the operation watched as WBOR lifeguards swam the pitch-black waters to rescue the victims marooned on the jetty; the NCDMF patrol boat scanned for the ocean rescue buoys on along the Masonboro Island jetty; and the USCG cutter roared over to Masonboro Island to retrieve the victims from the island. When the lifeguards appeared back on the south end shore with their victims, they rushed them up to the triage area where EMS crews were waiting. After collecting their respective victims, the other agencies returned to the USCG station to administer care.
Captain Robert Pugh of the WBFD began planning the exercise six months ago. The entire operation ended around 9 p.m. Thursday night.
“I think it went extremely well; we learned some things that we probably need to change in the future, which was the goal,” Pugh said. “It’s good to do these every once in a while because you work things out, things that you might think would work good in the office but when you get out there in the field you find out it doesn’t work as good as you thought it would.”
Most of the changes to be made revolve around communication, which Pugh and WBFD Chief Frank Smith said is the most important factor when multiple agencies are involved in a rescue. One of those changes will be to have more radio channels open since there is so much activity over the radio in these types of scenarios.
“The primary purpose of the exercise is to practice the command and control and communication between the agencies, which is what we always find to be a challenge when you have many different agencies,” Smith said. “We usually find everyone can perform their individual role really well but just coordinating the whole thing and having everybody being able to communicate together is usually one of the challenges.”
Pugh said that another one of the challenges in this type of training exercise was for those participating to treat it like a real rescue.
“It is difficult because you don’t see the visual clues that you normally would,” he said. “Like in this one you didn’t see the patients with all the injuries you would typically see so that makes it a little more difficult.”
Since these multi agency exercises require so much planning, Pugh said the various agencies only come together once a year to act them out.
Twice this summer, multiple agencies were called to search for missing swimmers on Wrightsville Beach. Both searches were false alarms.