John D. Taylor/ Hot Springs Star

Simulated fire tested first responder skills

HOT SPRINGS – At about 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon, July 27, the fire alarm in Pine Hills Retirement Community sprang into life and began its loud beep- beep – beep warning, telling residents that a fire had broken out in the building.

The fire wasn’t real, but part of a planned simulation created to involve all of the community’s first responders — the Hot Springs Police Department, the Fall River County Sheriff’s office, the Hot Springs Volunteer Fire Department and the Hot Springs Ambulance Service; also people from the State Home and Pine Hills – and test their timing and response to the scenario.

The idea behind the simulation was that a fire broke out in the Pine Hills kitchen and filled the building with smoke. Residents had to be evacuated, and some would be burned and require hospitalization, a couple may even require Black Hills Life Flight helicopter evacuation to a Denver burn center. Pine Hills would be a scene of mass confusion and concern.

Fall River County Emergency Manager Frank Maynard said this is the first time such a thing had been attempted in Hot Springs and that new federal rules make it a requirement for some 75 first responders and emergency managers in the community to participate in the simulation.

“This will be a learning exercise for everyone,” he said.

And so it was:

•Moments after the fire alarm sounded, Pine Hills residents began to be evacuated from the building, beginning with the first floor.

•Within three minutes after the alarm sounded, the Hot Springs Police Department was on the scene. Chief Mike Close came into the building first, grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed towards the kitchen. He was followed by Captain Bill Wainman, who was put in charge of traffic control outside the facility.

•Hot Springs Volunteer Fire Company trucks and firefighters arrived at 1:07 p.m. They came into the building dragging hoses through the front door, and going low, below the smoke and pretended to put out the fire in the kitchen. After the fire was out, they set up exhaust fans to clear the building of smoke, and a search for residents remaining the building began.

•Several people, including State Home Director of Operations Randy Meyers, and Pine Hills staff members, portrayed fire victims who were confused, argumentative, or simply passed out from the fire. When firefighters approached Meyers, for example, he acted disoriented, asked them what they were doing, and became argumentative when they tried to place him on a stretcher to get him out of the building and to the ambulance, to add to the simulation’s realism.

•A Hot Springs Ambulance Service ambulance arrived shortly after the fire trucks, awaiting to treat the injured and transport them to care facilities.

•By 1:27 p.m., it was announced that there remained eight residents on the second floor. By 1:32 p.m., they had been found and removed from the building, with medical care given if necessary.

After the exercise at Pine Hills was completed, the facility’s Executive Director, Vickie Nekuda, and Michelle VanCleave, Operations Manager, said they were very pleased with the results of the simulation.

Everything went as it should with one small exception, both pointed out: The building’s service doors didn’t operate in the way they thought they should have.

Both agreed that this is exactly the kind of thing a simulation is designed to point out – areas that need improvement.

So if the real thing ever happens – and certainly no one could wish for this – they now have the knowledge to proceed and solve this element of the simulation.

Still some of the shoppers at Shopko, Pine Hills neighbor, were certainly wondering what was going on at the retirement home.