By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV

DANUBE, Minn. (WCCO) — A school bus crash, a chemical spill, and a helicopter evacuation. They were all part of a “first of its kind” mock drill that took place in Renville County Wednesday night.

The purpose was to bring emergency crews together to respond to what could become real-life scenarios.

A farm vehicle carrying anhydrous ammonia collided with a school bus carrying 10 students, some in car seats and none of them can speak English.

“It’s a good example of where we need to improve. Communication is always an issue. Communication between emergency responders and the communication that comes with the language barrier,” said Mike Hennen, Renville County Emergency Management coordinator.

Eighty-five emergency responders from 11 departments took part in this unique drill. The anhydrous ammonia represents farm chemicals used throughout Renville County.

The dolls in the bus represent the growing number of Spanish-speaking children who live in the area. Each of the dolls involved in this crash had something written on them in Spanish, and it was up to firefighters to figure out what is wrong with each student.

“A responder looks at that and doesn’t know what it means. They know to find a translator to find out what they are talking about,” said Hennen.

Responders also have to decide who needs an emergency evacuation on a North Memorial helicopter, how to treat those who were exposed to chemicals and how to handle a car that has also caught fire.

It took six months to plan a drill that could some day become a real-life situation.

“Hopefully we can learn something from this event and if something happens, we are prepared,” said Alyson Helgeson of the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council and Migrant Head Start.

Comments (16)
  1. TF says:

    Really, none of them can speak English? Aren’t there more questions to ask if our drill is centered around the fact that no one can speak English? Come on

  2. jay says:

    they must have been transporting them from acrose the border

  3. amy says:

    Couple of cold-hearted people here. There are plenty of reasons an accident victim wouldn’t be able to communicate with rescuers. They focused on one particular scenario in this drill, there are broader applications. But I’m glad you got your shots in at immigrants, hope that was satisfying..

  4. citizen says:

    thank you, Amy!

  5. Nicki Hennen Visser says:

    You know what I find amusing? When presumably educated adults (the first 2 comments), who know nothing of a situation, open their mouths in judgement. They tend to wind up making themselves look like fools.
    None of the wounded in this drill were from *across the border*. They are legal citizens of the state of TEXAS (that’s in the US of A, btw). These families are welcomed to that area of MN each summer by the local farmers as field workers, similar to a young teenager of the Caucasian race working for a local farmer) and are much appreciated due to their strong work ethic. (First hand knowledge as I grew up there) The adults, about 99.9%, DO speak English, as do most of the children. The children may attend a summer schooling program (again, similar to any Caucasian child) and are transported by bus. Now, picture this scenario:
    A number of preschool/early elementary age (3-6 yrs old) children, of any race, involved in an accident. A child of that age, no matter what their primary language, will have trouble relaying to EMS what their injuries are in that type of chaos and uncertainty. Now add the fact that these children, at that young age, are bilingual; not only still trying to master speaking their primary language (as any child of that age is, ethnicity aside) but also trying to master speaking a 2nd language…..and communicate to an adult, whom they don’t know, in a very scary, intense situation.
    That is precisely why this drill was set up. The EMS of that area have done MANY drills, dealing with MANY different situations. My kids and I have been lucky enough to participate in 2 of them and have gained a wealth of knowledge as to what a MCI (mass casualty incident) entails for the EMS services. A language barrier is just the tip of the ice berg as to what EMS needs to prepare for, deal with and overcome in order to rescue people in a situation such as this.

  6. Common Sense says:

    I don’t understand Nicki, I’m don’t speak English. Can you please find a translator to translate to Spanish and/or write it on a postcard you can tape to my chest? That should sufficiently reflect what is necessary to understand a foreign language. Thank you.

    How about “ooooohh owwwwww” (pointing to broken leg). or heavy breathing with hands around neck like i’m choking, or rubbing my eyes like I can’t see or it stings!???

    Come on. Maybe we should be replacing all these EMT’s and other emergency responders with veterinarians then. They can fix an animal in less time and less cost than a people-doctor, and they can’t question the patient because the patients are animals and can’t speak.

    This is the appalling thing about this exercise. Seems like a bunch of well-to-do idiots pandering to other idiots for good warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m not certain a language barrier is the biggest issue of the day. Focus on the rescue, not the PC thing of giving the minority group a voice and turning everything into a political stunt.

    Good job for the exercise, boo to the language BS.

    1. citizen says:

      common sense.. I will let local ems know that you think of them as *idiots*. I hope someday you or a family member will need them and realize the importance of these drills to their training no matter what the type.

    2. Janet says:

      This “idiot” is not “well to do” and I do volunteer to serve our community. I can say, and will speak for the rest of our ambulance service, that it does not matter to us the color of your skin, the language that you speak or your gender, we treat ALL that need medical attention. I sure hope that you and your loved ones never get in the position to need one of us “idiots”, but it you do, we will be there no matter what. Unless of course you would prefer we call the veterinarian.

  7. Nicki Hennen Visser says:

    Common Sense. Yet you seem to have so little it just doesn’t seem fitting to sign a post that way. You don’t seem to have a grasp on the true intention of this drill. I don’t think the basis of the news article, or the drill, had anything to do with political correctness. The drill was set up to prepare EMS workers for a possible situation that included a language barrier as one of the many hurdles to overcome, as well as dealing with a chemical catastrophe. (or did that part of it escape you?) PC had nothing to do with any part of this. Anyone with COMMON SENSE should be able to see that.
    Pray you never take a family vacation to a country overseas (Italy, France, etc where you don’t speak the language as fluently as the natives) and become involved in an accident. It seems as though you’d be the *idiot* (as you so eloquently put it) with no way to communicate efficiently with their EMS workers.

    1. Common Sense says:

      Oh give me a break, we all know this was some person in a desk job who designed this drill. I’m sure the responders in the drill learned nothing by reading a few queue cards and probably thought the same thing, lack of reality, when they had to entertain this function.

      Yeah, you can blame me for being the devil’s advocate here, but PC did have something to do with it. My point was simply that language means little in an emergency. You treat the wounds as they appear. You look at emotions, symptoms, physical characteristics, clear points of pain, areas of discomfort without doubt. You can’t convince me that a team of medical professionals will refuse to give medical treatment before consulting with a Spanish to English translator. That’s the second most ridiculous argument I’ve heard all day. The first most ridiculous argument I heard was that this wasn’t designed to be politically correct. And in being so, it was a very bad attempt because it created a layer of CRAP that the first responders had to deal with that simply isn’t meaningful. Like I said, give me a veterinarian over an EMT that refuses to treat me before a Spanish translator arrives. Give me a break.

      1. citizen says:

        just a tid-bit for ya, this was NOT organized by a person with a desk job. Clearly you know nothing and from the other posts, I would have to say you’re a bit of an outcast, so why don’t you go try to be a tough guy elsewhere.

  8. Common Sense says:

    I’m sure the EMTs weren’t the ones who dreamed up this exercise. It was probably someone with a desk job who thought it’d be a great idea to test the response. Fine.

    The shocking part is that the language barrier is not a compelling use of time. You look for symptoms of things, pain points, physical appearance, body motions, color of skin, irritations, broken bones, characteristics of trauma. You’re telling me that in a real circumstance the first responders and a team of medical professionals would first wait for a Spanish to English translator to arrive before providing medical treatment? Give me the vet instead, yes, i’ll take the vet.

    In reality, you can blame me all you want for using the term “idiot”, but simply put, this was a PR stunt for the politically correct among us. I’m sure the responders who took part in the drill probably enjoyed the challenge of the language barrier, but they did not use the same tactics or measures they would have needed if these were strategically positioned dummies with physical characteristics acting hurt in different ways. Simply put, it was a joke to entertain this scenario because it detracts from the actual efforts required in a real situation, unless the goal now is to fund foreign translator jobs for every ambulance in the state. Seriously, what purpose did it serve? Sounds like a Vet might be more appropriate.

    And no, EMTs aren’t idiots. The practice drill was an idiot designed by someone who should have known better.

    But it made the focus of the news article, and that was the goal of this PR/PC stunt wasn’t it?

  9. CS says:

    WCCO is slow today, sorry for my double post, thought it didn’t go through

  10. Nicki Hennen Visser says:

    Actually, the 2 people who designed this drill are long-time, active members of one of the ambulance services involved in the drill. And, quite honestly, most EMS services have to deal with a certain *layer of crap* (again, so eloquently put by you) that is a language barrier at many of their calls; ie: a medical emergency in which the patient is having a stroke or diabetic coma, therefore may not be able to speak clearly or at all, and cannot tell EMS what meds they are currently taking that may make a big difference in what treatment is given en route and by hospital staff upon arrival. In that case a family member living in the home would act as a *translator* of sorts, giving the EMS team the necessary information to relay to hospital staff and provide an advantage in saving a person’s life.
    I assume you’re uninformed because (hopefully) you’ve never been involved in an emergency or seen your local EMS in action but it seems to me that training for any number of possible situations specific to your locale would be beneficial, don’t you agree? There were many more aspects of this drill going on simultaneously; car crash involving a car load of local ball players, chemical injuries, possible evacuation, etc…..yet you seem to want to gloss over those aspects and fixate on what you’re trying to make into a PC argument. Fixating on something that isn’t there, especially since you don’t know the hard facts/reasons for/people involved, seems like a waste of breath to me.

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