Mass-casualty drill unites several Fla. agenciesPalm Beach County Fire Rescue Lt. Mark Gale said such drills are important because it allows them to practice with other agencies
By Cynthia Roldan
The Palm Beach Post
RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — The call came in around 10:20 in the morning: A boat at Peanut Island had exploded, injuring 14 people and capsizing another boat.
To make matters worse, someone from the capsized boat was missing.
The scenes Monday morning at Phil Foster Park and Peanut Island were simulated as part of a mass-casualty drill involving at least 30 rescuers from the U.S. Coast Guard and four other agencies, but it was treated as if it were real.
After all, such incidents can happen.
In fact, the scenario was similar to one that occurred in Delray Beach on Jan. 3, when one man died and two were injured in a boat explosion at the Delray Harbor Club marina.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Lt. Mark Gale said drills like Monday's are important because it allows them to practice with other agencies.
"These drills help us fine-tune our training for real emergencies," Gale said.
"It makes a lot of difference for us to be able to practice these types of incidents."
At Peanut Island, the Coast Guard extinguished the fire that had engulfed the boat that exploded, while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office's marine unit rescued injured victims.
The first two boats arrived at Phil Foster Park with about 10 injured victims at around 11 a.m.
As they approached the dock, some could be heard wailing as others cried for additional help. County rescue teams ran to their aid and escorted the victims to safety.
But the mission wasn't over.
Oscar, a dummy who weighs about 170 pounds, was missing, and a dive team had to be sent out to rescue him.
Sam Adler, a special operations firefighter for county fire rescue, was the man chosen for the job.
Adler dropped into the clear waters off Peanut Island, near the capsized boat where Oscar was last seen. Adler searched around the boat and found Oscar near the rear. He was unconscious and unresponsive. It didn't look good for Oscar, and Trauma Hawk was called to Phil Foster Park, to fly him to one of the county's trauma centers, likely St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
At 11:50 a.m., however, the team was informed by Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer James Mullinax that Oscar did not survive. Despite that, Mullinax called the drill a success.
"Communication is always a challenge," he said, since every agency operates on a different radio frequency.
"We hope to do even better next year."
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