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Nursing students get first-hand experience, training with mock disaster

December 3, 2012
Emily Siegmon - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ALPENA - Thirty-eight Alpena Community College nursing students from Melissa Fournier's class played smallpox victims on Monday, while 16 students responded to the mass casualty event. While the event was staged and coordinated, Fournier said students gained real-world experience on how to interact with victims and handle mass casualty events.

"I've been setting up theses scenarios for at least five years," Fournier said.

In the past, Fournier's classes have responded to staged plane crashes, classroom backpack bombs, shootings, car accidents and explosions.

"This is a way for students to get real-world experience. We can only teach so much with textbooks," Fournier said. "Today's scenario (included) people interacting with people who may not be involved in the situation. Overall, it'll be a great learning experience."

The entire process included makeup, first responder assessments, finding and bringing smallpox victims to a quarantined area, and keeping patients in a secluded spot.

"There are psychological aspects to this exercise; it's a muti-faceted activity. I think it's a necessary part of nursing education," Fournier said. " We live in a post 9/11 era, we need to be prepared for anything."

After the scene runs, students received a debriefing on the mass casualty event and discussed what went right or wrong, and how to be prepared in the future.

"My first year, I had makeup from when a bomb went off. Last year, we did a plane crash. I took the role of a 28-year-old pregnant woman who had a head wound and early contractions," Danielle O'Dell said. "It was really interesting and a great learning experience for everyone involved."

However, this year O'Dell was part of the students who took on the first responder role. While she is new to this part, she said communication was an important factor of this year's scenario outcome.

"My goal is to get a better idea of how to work a scene with a mass casualty. I want to do well, and if things happen in the future I want to be ready to help," O'Dell said. "We're lucky to have an instructor who takes the time and effort to coordinates this."

Prior to the drill, Kriste Hart, nursing student/first responder, said her past experience working in EMS would be helpful in this class situation.

"I'm looking forward to being a part of something so real," Hart said. "Overall, my role will be responding and helping with triage. It's exciting and a little nerve wracking, but it's important and something fun."

Fournier said the RN mass casualty event might expand in the near future to include community responders and Alpena Regional Medical Center. However, Monday's drill infected the entire Alpena Community College.

Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5687.



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