Is Payson Prepared For Disaster?

RTA Hospice learns from drill

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A mock disaster drill to test its emergency patient evacuation plan was staged at RTA Hospice and Palliative Care the evening of Sept. 22.

The drill scenario was a fully involved, first-alarm fire with Payson, Diamond Star and Houston Mesa fire departments responding, according to Lorna Hansen, patient care administrator for RTA.

"My understanding is the fire department's end of the drill has a couple of little turns in it," Hansen said before the drill commenced. "There will unexpectedly be a firefighter down in one of the buildings that they will have to rescue. And one of our staff members will have a problem in the staging area," Hansen said.

The fire alarm went off at the north end of the building, which houses home care administration. Hospice staff was operating under the premise that the sprinkler system did not go off and land line phones were out.

A staff member used her cell phone to call 911. That call went to the Department of Public Safety before being immediately routed to the Payson police dispatch.

"Lifestar Ambulance was first on the scene and they were professional and coordinated," said Hansen.

The ambulance company, which also participated in the drill, beat fire trucks to the hospice parking lot staging area by about four minutes.

However, hospice staff did not wait for the ambulance or fire trucks to arrive before they started to triage and evacuate one mock patient.

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In a drill last week, Payson Fire Department personnel prepare for entry into a burning, extended care facility.

Bertha Trotter, 72, was confused and disoriented when a staff member wheeled her out of the south end of the building.

"I'm cold. I need to take a shower before I go out," she said.

When emergency personnel arrived, she was treated with oxygen while firemen evacuated three other patients.

The hospice building was designed with firewalls and firedoors that allow patients to be moved from one end of the building to the other. This special construction makes complete evacuation unnecessary, according to Hansen.

Attic and ceiling sprinklers are equipped with heat sensors that detect fire in the room where it begins. Fire doors are programmed to close automatically.

"We have two to four hours of safety," Hansen said. "Smoke inhalation would not be an issue. I reaffirmed that we have a very dynamic, professional group of firefighters in Payson and the surrounding areas.

"We learned that our means of calling and notifying each other in an emergency is not as effective as it needs to be, so we are going to be revamping that," said Hansen.

"People who are called first are going to be the ones who live closest. Hospice covers about a 100-mile radius and we need to make certain that employees and volunteers who live farther out stay home or in their community if that is the best place for them."

In a real disaster, the 105-decibel alarm bell would ring more than a few minutes. It would ring until the patients and staff were evacuated, or until a fireman or Claude La Bonté, the owner of Aztec Alarm, turned it off.

"The drill was successful in that it taught us where our strengths and weakness are," Hansen said.

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