Faux injuries for real emergencies

A handful of men, women and children entered Ashland Fire & Rescue's Station No. 1 engine bay Wednesday and emerged minutes later with a variety of injuries, ranging from cuts and scrapes to sheared bone fragments stabbing outward from the skin.

All wounds were made at the hands of Capt. Kelly Burns. But they weren't real, they just looked that way for a hands-on mass casualty and injury car accident scenario, intended to teach firefighters and paramedics how to handle a similar, real-life situation.

Making the fake injuries, or "moulage," for such a scene look real is key. That's where Burns comes in.

"The impact of the visual is intense," Burns said. "It looks real enough, you start taking it seriously. As real as you can make it is the best."

But to make the best, you have to learn from the best. Burns did about 20 years ago.

Then a second-year firefighter, he attended a moulage class in Chiloquin, taught by a company called Image Perspectives. Now based in Arizona, the company did the makeup effects for several slasher horror films made during the 1970s.

Burns learned the company's techniques and brought them back to Ashland. "I've used it the last 20 years now," he said.

The process differs depending on the wound. Liquid latex allowed to dry makes for good fake skin to tear open and fill with fake blood. A special gel looks like shredded fatty tissue. Cold creme, latex and gel make blisters. For broken bones, snapped PVC pipes do the trick.

Some of Burns' creations have been fairly elaborate.

"I did a pencil that was going through somebody's head," he said. "It was something right out of a 'Friday the 13th' movie."

Other AFR employees say the effect pays off.

"He does an excellent job of making it look realistic," said Medical Division Chief Greg Case. "It makes it more true to life."

Diana Banda, who is earning her paramedic certification, has worked on treating mock wounds in similar scenarios before.

"It's very effective," she said.

Burns said the "victims" are encouraged to employ their acting skills, too. Accident victims or uninjured family members and friends aren't just going to sit there. Such scenes typically come with anger, fear and panic, and emergency responders are taught to respond accordingly during scenario training.

"Just trying to get their perspective and being in the situation lets you think, 'What are their needs?' " said Tamara Richey, a Southern Oregon University nursing student and one of Wednesday's mock patients. In the scenario, her femur fractured and ripped through her leg during the crash.

Burns said he would like to do more of the scenarios. Finding time is key, and in a profession where days can't be planned out, tricky.

But station officials say it's worth it to do it as much as possible.

"It's all for the responders," Burns said. "It's going to help you survive in this career."

Ryan Pfeil is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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