ELKINS - Just like a train has many cars and components that make it whole, so too are those called into action during a crisis part of one large, extended unit that's at its best when working together.
That "unit" was activated en mass locally on Oct. 11 - when the unthinkable happened. A log truck drove into the Cheat Mountain Salamander tourist train operated by the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad. The accident, which occurred in the southern part of Randolph County, resulted in the death of the truck's driver, more than 20 injuries and dozens of people being transported as a precaution to Davis Memorial Hospital for further evaluation.
It was a massive undertaking and one for which so many agencies train. Yet, the hope always is that training never has to be put into action.
The logging accident forced the need for area personnel to make the real-world leap from training to crisis management. Now, nearly two weeks later, after the dust has settled and the healing has begun, the heroes of that day are reflecting about making it through tragedy as a team.
This well-oiled rescue machine included emergency workers, such as paramedics, physicians, first responders, firefighters, drivers, nurses, dispatchers, volunteers and numerous other dedicated individuals.
Among them was Huttonsville Fire Chief Rodney McAtee, who served as incident commander for fire companies responding to the scene.
"Everyone worked together as a team and that was the reason for success," he said. "Responders have lots of training that builds on one another - and not one particular training addresses every situation. All the trainings kick in when you get on scene and there are so many things happening at the same time. You keep changing roles and stabilizing the situation."
McAtee said he was very proud to be a part of those responding to the crisis.
"Everyone did their part and did what was asked of them," he said. "They stayed on task and finished their jobs. This is the largest disaster I have ever worked in my 21 years in fire service. The response went as well as could be expected."
McAtee said he was appreciative of all those responding to the scene. He also thanked those who covered other stations in rescue personnel's absence, allowing them to assist during the tragedy with the piece of mind that those in their respective areas still had access to emergency care, if necessary.
Randolph County EMS Director Kurt Gainer said he was very pleased with response to the accident.
"There were lots of systems and processes in place when the accident occurred," Gainer said. "When we dumped all of the units to the accident scene, we had to make sure other areas were covered as well. During the time of the accident, we had one unit dispatched in the county for chest pain and one for a three-car accident on the Beverly Five-Lane."
Those calls alone would have made for a busy afternoon. Add in the logging truck's wreck with the train, and the sheer volume of patients could have been more than overwhelming.
Gainer said EMS has a mass casualty protocol it uses in these instances.
"The point is to move the patients from the scene to get treatment," Gainer said. "Our paramedics are tied up at the scene treating patients, and when they get into the ambulance, we get them to the hospital. We also need to assure we have units at the hospital in case patients need transported to West Virginia University Hospital."
Gainer said, as large as the incident was, it was not as bad as it could have been.
"EMS units from Pocahontas County did a great job and had a large turnout," Gainer said. "We are very fortunate for their assistance. We also got a call in early and got a bus from Randolph County Schools to help transport those on the train who did not need to be transported by ambulance."
Gainer said it took 47 minutes after he arrived on scene to get patients transported.
"We put a triage tag on each patient to keep account of everyone," Gainer said, noting this aided staff at Davis Memorial Hospital, who immediately hopped into action when they found out about the accident.
"All of the first responders, hospital employees, outside providers enabled us to have an almost one-on-one care (ratio) with the patients arriving," Davis Memorial Hospital Emergency Department Charge Nurse Hollis Lipscomb said.
"We have a mass casualty plan in place and implemented the plan," Davis Memorial Director of Support Services Steve Johnson said. "We have two mass casualty plan trainings each year."
"About 2 p.m., we heard there was an incident involving a train," Lipscomb said. "Shortly after that, we found out a log truck had collided with a passenger train. When I came over, we reviewed what was going on and made a plan for the patients and put the mass casualty plan into place."
Lipscomb said the hospital moved the emergency room patients over to the day surgery unit to make room for the incoming wounded. He said this would isolate the trauma patients.
"Everything worked well," Johnson said. "It was fortunate because this incident occurred between our shift change, so we had the staff stay on and added the new shift to ensure we had enough staff on board."
Johnson said there were approximately 400 employee hours contributed to caring for those transported to Davis Memorial Hospital from the accident scene. It was located in one of the most remote areas of the county, yet response times for assistance were impressive, emergency officials said.
Mark Doak, chief executive officer of Davis Health System, said his staff had lots of help during the incident.
"We had a lot of area physicians and mid-levels that came in to help," he said. "There were as many physicians as patients who came in to help."
The accident happened at approximately 1:30 p.m. Doak said the first patient arrived at the hospital at approximately 3 p.m. and all patients were taken care of within three hours. He said all of the regional hospitals contacted Davis Memorial Hospital offering their help if needed.
Lipscomb said there were 63 patients who came to Davis Memorial Hospital that day.
"Twenty-two of those patients were treated," Lipscomb said. "There were two admissions and four transfers to another hospital."
"For the balance of the patients, comfort care was provided," Doak added. "We took those patients to the other lobby and the PAs and FNPs circulated among the patients to assure no latent problems emerged. The Ministerial Association also came and helped with the patients. It was very comforting for the patients."
Doak said he was proud of all rescue and care efforts.
"Without a great staff and their dedication, this would not have been so successful," Doak said.