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News | June 11, 2024

Wisconsin Guard Black Hawk unit teams with Aurora for mass casualty exercise

By Vaughn R. Larson 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment

The Wisconsin Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, carrying a medevac crew and notional patients from its base in West Bend, Wisconsin, first circled the helipad site before landing at Aurora Medical Center-Summit, completing a simulated medical transport in less than an hour.

In reality, the flight — part of a mass casualty exercise with emergency and trauma center medical staff with Aurora Medical Centers in Summit and Green Bay — represents a journey that began many months ago.

“This is the first step for us — crawl stage — to be able to understand and figure out all the details how to transfer patients safely,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Furbee, a standardization instructor for the flight paramedics with the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment crews in West Bend.

Part of the day’s training included Aurora medical staff figuring out how to receive three patients at one time from the helipad.

“The procedure’s a bit different,” explained Dr. Christopher George, an emergency physician at Aurora-Summit. “It’s good practice for both of us on how we receive patients as well as how they bring in patients. In this case, we went out to get the patients — typically, they would land and would be coming to us. Multiple patients come in on one Black Hawk, as opposed to Flight For Life, which brings one patient at a time. So it’s a slightly different dynamic.”

In a military setting, litter bearers are waiting for the Black Hawk arrival to transfer patients from the helicopter to the field hospital. With a civilian air ambulance, the flight crew brings the patient into the emergency room.

The training scenario was a building collapse north of the Waukesha County community where Aurora-Summit is located. Aurora-Summit is a Level 2 trauma center, which can get patients into surgery within 15 minutes of arrival, and can handle most medical injuries — certain hand or oral maxillofacial injuries would require a Level 1 trauma center in Milwaukee or Madison. The notional patients brought to Aurora-Summit by Black Hawk suffered injuries to include a broken neck, hand amputation and burns. One patient, a medical mannequin, would later be transported to Aurora BayCare in Green Bay to simulate a medical transfer between facilities.

Sgt. Stephanie Ziety, a crew chief with the West Bend unit, played the role of a patient with an unstable C-spine fracture — a broken neck.

“They did a trauma assessment,” Ziety said when she was brought into the emergency and trauma center, “to make sure there wasn’t any additional trauma, make sure my vitals were good. They simulated getting images and results from that, so the next step would have been being seen by a neurosurgeon.”

Ziety has been with the Wisconsin National Guard since 2011, and served as part of a medevac crew since 2018.

“It’s another opportunity for me to see what goes on with patients in the back of an aircraft,” she said.

Maj. Sarah Latza, operations officer with the Army Aviation Support Facility #1 in West Bend, said this training was the brainchild of Furbee and Maj. John “JJ” Jenkins, an aeromedical assistant with the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

“They’ve gotten with the Aurora medical community here in Wisconsin, and this exercise actually has grown into what it is today,” Latza said.

George said there have been multiple drills and teaching opportunities with the National Guard.

“The more times you interact with the same people, it gets more comfortable and easy,” he said, “and then the small details are much easier to do and you can focus on the big things because everybody’s comfortable with how the procedure works.”

George said the mass casualty exercise is beneficial to prepare for real-world events such as the 2021 Thanksgiving Day parade in Waukesha, when six people were killed more than 60 injured after a motorist drove an SUV at high speed through the parade. Aurora-Summit received between seven and 10 emergency patients from that incident.

“Our partnership with the Wisconsin Army National Guard allows us another way to simulate a mass casualty situation so that we can both be prepared for the next incident in our community and to save more lives,” George said.

Furbee acknowledged that it is not routine for an Army National Guard Black Hawk to transport patients to a local civilian hospital, but that underscores the need to train for the possibility.

“Throughout the year we get called for several search and rescue missions — primarily lost hikers, lost children, things of that nature,” Furbee said. “So this is good practice for us to be able to figure out the processes and procedures and techniques to accomplish that.”

Furbee said that the exercise played out efficiently because of the preparation behind it, including communication between the Guard unit and the receiving facilities in Summit and Green Bay. He said his unit is working on a standard operating procedure to give to hospitals “so that way they know what to expect from the crew” — how the aircraft lands, how to approach the helicopter, how the Army medic gives report and how to safely offload patients.

“We’ve really been able to refine the process,” Furbee said. “It seemed to work out very well today.”

George agreed.

“This is how it’s supposed to work,” he said.