Mass-casualty incidents (MCIs) are a growing concern in EMS. It seems we can't go a week without a mass shooting—a frightening reality in today's society. But MCIs also take other forms: multi-car pileups on the interstate, natural disasters that strike without warning, and the threat of bioterrorism from enemies abroad. As EMS professionals, we must be ready for anything.
There are several key factors in preparing for MCIs. Training is fundamental. When an MCI occurs, the last thing you should be concerned with is roles and responsibilities. These should be assigned well before an incident and practiced until all participants are proficient.
Another key to preparation is equipment, for all the training in the world cannot overcome a shortage of supplies. If you are charged with provisioning your agency's MCI trailer, you have the unenviable task of ensuring your crews have the necessary equipment to respond to a range of incidents. And one of the most fundamental pieces of equipment to be included is the portable suction unit.
Making Your Selection
Most MCIs involve traumatic injury. And most traumatic injuries involve bleeding. When this bleeding interferes with air exchange, as in facial trauma, blunt force or penetrating injuries, or crush injuries, the only way to clear the airway is through effective and efficient suction. So, the portable suction units you choose for your MCI trailer had better be up to the challenge. Here are four considerations when selecting your suction units:
1. How many units do you require? This will be dictated by the size of your agency, the population level you protect, joint-response agreements, and the size of your trailer. Keep in mind that nothing can replace a portable suction unit, so be sure to have plenty on hand.
2. What are your power requirements? Does your trailer have a generator or electrical connections for charging rechargeable devices, or will you need to rely on alkaline batteries for your suction units? There are alternative power sources available for some units, so you may want to have several different types at your disposal.
3. Don't forget the accessories! For each portable suction unit in your MCI, be sure to provide sufficient numbers of adjuncts, such as an array of suction catheters and plenty of suction tubing. Your units are useless without the proper adjuncts.
4. Quality AND Quantity. When it comes to this vital piece of equipment, don't skimp. You get what you pay for in portable suction units, which doesn't mean you have to spend the most for exceptional quality. It just means you must do your homework; select a reputable, dependable brand; and choose a provider that offers continued support.
Identifying appropriate portable suction units for your MCI trailer is critical to the success of your organization. Suction is one of the most fundamental lifesaving treatments you will administer during an MCI, so be sure to choose wisely. When an MCI occurs, you want to be ready!