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Simulated Landslide Disaster Tests Pasadena Fire’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, Hospital Emergency Responders

Published on Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 9:59 pm


As a late morning sun began to peek through a cloudy sky deep in Eaton Canyon Friday, Dr. Joelle Getrajdman was instructing her L.A. County-USC Hospital Emergency Response Team (HERT), as she held her scalpel.

“I’m going to cut through the muscle now, until I get to the bone,” she said, surrounded by two more surgeons—Dr. Megan Lewis and Dr. Joel Lombardi—and nurse Joanne Cetina. With her scalpel, she cut cleanly and quickly into the heavily wrapped leg, slicing through the flesh. Reaching the bone, she then grabbed a small power saw and quickly buzzed through the “patient’s” thigh bone.

She deftly removed the severed limb, and the “patient” was placed on a gurney for immediate transport back to County USC Medical Center, where surgeons would be standing by had this been a genuine emergency.

But the scene was part of a simulated disaster — in this case, a landslide in Eaton Canyon.

The large-scale drill is held once or twice a year to help coordinate emergency responses between HERT teams and Urban Search and Rescue teams, said Acting Fire Chief Bryan Frieders, who praised the work of all the emergency workers on the scene.

The Pasadena Fire Department was the lead agency in Friday’s exercise.

In this year’s drill, the USC HERT crew was flown in by helicopter, after being notified by Pasadena Fire Urban Search & Rescue Team members, who were first on the disaster scene, after a “major landslide” resulted in four critical patients with severe entrapment requiring advanced life support in the field.

Injuries to the four “patients” included amputation, crush syndrome, impalement and respiratory distress. One “victim” was found in a tree, another was trapped under logs on the canyon floor, and still another was lying still, under a tree, having difficulty breathing.

Dozens of members of Pasadena Fire’s Urban Search & Rescue Team, Huntington Hospital staff and representatives, Harbor-UCLA and USC Hospital Emergency Response Teams (HERT), along with the Sheriff’s Department Air 5 Emergency Medical Services Agency, responded to the event.

Within two hours—35 minutes ahead of schedule—all simulated victims had been located, treated at the scene, and transported to local hospitals.

Search and rescue personnel, led by Pasadena Fire Captains Dave Marquez and Robert Sepulveda, arrived on the simulated disaster scene just after 9 a.m., and had to locate victims scattered through the canyon, and then notify medical response teams to treat the victims.

“This was just about as smooth as we could have hoped for,” Frieders said.

Though the victims were dummies, and the leg that was sliced through by Dr. Getrajdman was actually a pig’s leg, the scores of emergency workers moved swiftly across the widespread simulated disaster scene.

“Everything worked well,” said Getradjman after the drill, adding that the emergency amputation was similar to an operating room scenario.

“This was as close to real as I could have imagined, very seamless and realistic,” she said.

“The fact that we finished up ahead of schedule is a testament to the professionalism of the team,” Frieders. “It’s really a top-notch group, and a model for the state, and hospitals.”

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