DUBAI // Horrified paramedics confronted scenes of carnage at a crash site yesterday as they tended to 18 casualties amid the chaos of scattered luggage, billowing smoke, camera crews and panic-stricken survivors.
Fortunately it was only mock mayhem, the victims were actors and the press corps were media students as 14 trainee paramedics were put through their paces in a staged plane crash scenario, or Mass Casualty Incident Simulation, at Dubai Women's College.
A plane crash situation was chosen as the teaching exercise as it was "a concern in the modern world", said Dr Ronald Blough, the co-ordinator of the Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic (EMT) programme.
"Any large city with a major airport should hold practices like this. It is part of life in a busy city," he said. "We try to make it as real as possible. The students might be doing this in real life. They need to know how to work together in a real situation."
There have been several recent plane crashes in the UAE, including one on February 28 when four people died when their aircraft crashed on take-off from Al Ain, and another involving a UPS cargo plane on an airbase near Dubai International Airport last September in which two pilots died.
It was vital for students to have experience working as part of a team, to prepare themselves for the real-life emergencies they will face after graduation, said a Dubai Police official participating in the exercise.
"For us to learn to work with each other is crucial," said Capt Tareq Hassan of the Dubai Police accident and rescue department. "In the American cargo crash … everyone had to work with each other."
One lesson came from a working female paramedic, who advised the women to wear shorter lab coats and to tie loose headscarves well. "You have a patient, you don't want to be a patient too," she told female students.
In the heat of the moment, communication and co-ordination between paramedic students, ambulance, civil defence, and Dubai Police became a challenge, said Sheikha Haddad, a third-year paramedic.
"This year was the first time we have had to work with civil defence," she said. "They had to look first and tell us if it is safe to get into the 'hot zone' where the smoke and patients are, to attend to them."
Paramedics needed experience of extreme scenarios, said Dr Albert Oliver, an emergency ward doctor in Dubai, who was on hand to advise to students.
"In panic, you forget everything you learn," he said. "Right now, as you can see, it's chaos - which is what an emergency situation is like."