Steamboat Springs If you ever wanted to know what's it's like to be inside a decontamination suit, Joey Dunlap can tell you.
It's "very hot, and if you're claustrophobic, you don't want to be in it," said Dunlap, a contract biomedical technician at Yampa Valley Medical Center. "It's not pleasant, but it's a necessary evil."
Dunlap was one of three YVMC employees who donned the suits to take part in an emergency preparedness drill Wednesday morning that looked like a scene from "E.T." The scenario was that three people were accidentally sprayed with an agricultural pesticide, leaving one unconscious, one with respiratory problems and one fairly capable. A dummy represented the unconscious victim, and YVMC employees played the other two. The team had to set up a decontamination tent outside the hospital and moved the patients through it before taking them into the hospital.
"We want to capture folks like that before they get in the hospital because they could contaminate the whole hospital," said Senior Director of Sports Services Tom Lake, who oversaw the drill.
The tent includes a wash hose and a rinse hose and is lined with a bladder that prevents hazardous runoff from escaping. There also is a generator to power the tent in the field or, if the power goes out, at the hospital. It also has a heater so it can function in low temperatures.
YVMC officials blocked out the entire morning for the drill, which was completed in a surprisingly short 50 minutes.
"It went well, a lot better than expected," Dunlap said. "Everybody remained calm. That's the important part."
Steve Hilley, emergency preparedness coordinator and infection prevention coordinator at the hospital, said it took only 15 minutes to get the decontamination tent set up and fully functional. Last time YVMC set it up, it took 40 minutes.
"We slammed it," Hilley said. "We've set it up before in the past, but never in a drill situation."
The decontamination team at YVMC was created in the past year, Hilley said, though the hospital has owned the related equipment for several years. There are four YVMC employees certified to use the equipment and another four being trained. Hilley said he'd ultimately like to have 10 to 15 people trained and certified in decontamination.
Wednesday's drill was valuable, Hilley said, because it gave the hospital a good idea about how many people it could run through the tent per hour in a real-life situation.
YVMC spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said YVMC performs two emergency drills each year "because it's the right thing to do and the best way to prepare for a real emergency" and because it's required for accreditation and by granting agencies.