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Holloman medics stand ready in time of crisis

HOLLOMAN AFB, N.M. -- The threat of a biological, chemical or radiological attack is real and Holloman is prepared. 

According to Capt. Donna LaPointe, a nurse and chief of the 49th Medical Group Patient Decontamination Team, she and her staff recently went through a week of training to prepare them for just such attacks. 

Training for such attacks is important as they can have devastating effects. 

Captain LaPointe described the 1995 sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway in which a small amount of the poisonous gas created havoc in one of the world's largest cities. 

"There were 5,000 people on the exposed subway train - 3,000 had to be seen at local hospitals; nearly 500 were seriously ill and 12 died," said Captain LaPointe. 

Even though medical personnel responded to the scene, more than half the victims fled the scene before responding personnel could set up a cordon. 

These victims reported to local medical facilities which contaminated the medical personnel and their facilities. 

"If such an incident were to happen in the Holloman community, we would need to be able to protect our facility and staff by setting up our In-Place-Patient-Decontamination-Capability," the captain said. 

The IPPDC is also used to further decontaminate victims once the fire department completes their gross decontamination process. 

If victims require higher level of care, they are brought back to the clinic and processed through the IPPDC before being transported to a civilian facility. 

The IPPDC has two components: The equipment to decontaminate patients and the training that teaches medics how to use it. 

Last week, medics received training on the new capability and put what they learned into practice during an exercise to test their new skills. 

When up and running, the IPPDC looks like a futuristic car wash. Victims, often on litters, enter one end of a blue tent and are immediately swarmed by teams of medics in green and yellow waterproof suits and masks. Water hoses hang from the ceiling. Water is important to the mission, and it is everywhere. 

"The solution to pollution is dilution," said Mr. Tom Bocek, a contractor hired to train Holloman members on the equipment. 

The fire department is usually the first responder to any biological, chemical or radiological attack. They initiate the decontamination process by simply hosing down victims, he said. 

Medics then transport victims to the IPPDC -- usually set up just behind the Medical Group Clinic. They place the victims in the IPPDC tent and remove clothing, hose them down and scrub the victims to remove surface chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear industrial contamination. Medical providers are nearby to provide care during or after the decontamination if needed. 

The IPPDC is usually stored within 100 feet of the medical facility and can be rapidly set up. 

The staff can erect and start operations in the IPPDC in about 20 minutes. It takes 12 medics to run it. They can decontaminate 10 litter patients in an hour, and 15 ambulatory patients per hour. 

"We don't act alone in this capability," Captain LaPointe said. "The first people on the scene and to provide decontamination are almost always fire fighters. Now that we have this new IPPDC capability, we are working with them to ensure an awesome and combined response to any incident."