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McEntire's Patient Decon Team trains to save lives

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson
  • 169th FW/PA
Swamp Fox members from a spectrum of career fields have come together to form a highly capable, trained, Patient Decontamination Team. Its purpose: saving lives.

The primary goal of the team is to respond to base emergencies, but the unit is mobile and can respond to emergencies within South Carolina if necessary. The team fills a void during the zero to six hour time-frame after a HAZMAT event. Beyond that, there are a series of Federal Emergency Management Agency teams in place with greater capabilities to sustain support.

The decontamination team will work cooperatively with the base bioenvironmental and triage packages, broadening the life-saving capabilities. The minimal medical ability for each team member is self aid and buddy care and none of the members will ever be expected to provide medical care beyond that level.

"The most important thing is being able to save lives," said Maj. Darci Rubin, 169th Medical Group assistant chief nurse and the officer in charge for the team. She plans to have the team together twice a year for hands on training. Information and reading material will be sent to the members, in between those sessions, so they may stay familiarized with the material.

McEntire was a certified Patient Decontamination Team unit in March, when 13 initial members were trained. The team is continuing training and building its force with nine new members. The element now has 18 full-time and four traditional Guard Airmen, trained to respond to a hazardous material emergency. It is a required package for McEntire maintain, with a minimum of eight hours of training per year.

"The focus was training more members. You need to have 12 people to efficiently set up and run the activity," said Rubin. "Foresight and preparation is really important and we need to have it so we can save lives if we have an event."

The new team members recently completed an eight hour classroom training session and then were evaluated setting up the system and simulating actual patient decontamination. The team is required to assemble the entire decontamination tent in less than 20 minutes. After only one prior practice, and being short three members, the team was ready to receive patients in 19 minutes 16 seconds.

"I think we did very well," said team chief Staff Sgt. Jessica Ervin, 169th Medical Group medical technician. "Most of the team is not from medical. They are from maintenance, or personnel, and all across the base, with very little to no medical experience. On that behalf, I think everyone did excellent learning how to put everything together."

The team jumped into action when their evaluation began. They already had a system in place, splitting up into two groups; half began donning their protective suits while the other half began building the decontamination tent. Once fully dressed-out, they tagged out another member and took over the building process. All members are fully knowledgeable in the set up of the tent and proper wear of the chemical protective suits.

Once the unit is fully assembled with running water, patient decontamination can begin. The system is set up to care for up to 100 patients within a six hour period. Patients that are capable, can walk through and decontaminate themselves as instructed, while those that are non-ambulatory are sanitized by the decon team. A triage area would be available after the decontamination process was finished, allowing patients to receive further medical attention as needed.

"It worked out having members from different sections on base, bringing their own unique skill sets to the team," said Ervin. "We have the medical knowledge, we know how to triage and take care of patients, but having the team come together with other specialties, like knowing how to connect to a fire hydrant, and knowing safety regulations, I think worked out well."