May 23, 2016
In the past when I worked as a volunteer victim’s advocate, I learned firsthand that there’s nothing romantic about being a victim. That lifestyle and mindset is tragedy either occurring or waiting to happen. Further, I strongly recommend if you see yourself as a victim, to lose that mentality and to do everything possible to stand up for yourself, your family and others and be your own best advocate. Your community has resources. Use those resources and know what services are available.
That being said, on Saturday I volunteered to be a “victim” . . . with the National Guard.
I had no idea what to expect, but as a writer, I learn best by visualizing (and hearing) events in person. Along with several community members, my writer friends Barbara Nickless and Tom Farrell drove to Erie, Colorado and the North Metro Fire and Rescue Training Facility.
There, members of the National Guard stood ready to learn how they would handle a catastrophe by running drills. In the representation I attended it was a train derailment carrying ammonia where an explosion had occurred.
At the facility, volunteers stood by to put us through scenarios and to make us look like the walking wounded. Makeup artists placed bruises, scrapes and bloody messes on us. Kudos to one terrific and fun-loving ten-year-old named David who looked horrific with a screw imbedded in his cheek.
We were told to act but not overact. One member was fantastic, did the best moaning job ever, particularly when he lost his fake leg.
In my scenario, I’d lost my daughter and I was supposed to be looking for her. (Now again, they told us not to overact.) And when I reported to the soldiers she was missing, followed by a lame frantic acting job; the soldiers directed me to the cone area to join my fellow victims.
When I started to oblige, a supervisor pulled me aside. “Seriously? You’re just going to go when you’re daughter’s missing?” he asked.
That’s all the permission I needed to slip into character. (&%$# no.)
“Ma’am,” a soldier said, “we need you to go over to the cones.”
“Are you kidding me? I can’t do that. You don’t understand. We were at the railroad tracks when the explosion occurred. She was in the passenger seat right beside me. You have to find her….” Okay that was better, I hope.
The soldiers took charge and said, “We’ll look for her but we need you to cooperate. If you get lost looking for her, we’ll have two people to search for. We need to concentrate on her. Please, ma’am.”
That seemed reasonable, so off to the cones I went until another training supervisor called me back and said to the soldiers, “Aren’t you going to ask the little girl’s name and age, what she looks like?”
As realization dawned on several faces, (including mine) I immediately appreciated how important it is to have these drills.
Fictitiously bruised and scraped and a little bit wiser, I headed to the cone section, where next they put us through the decontamination process. Now, the decon process is where soldiers and medics analyze the injuries, and then spray the victims from head to toe with water in preparation for whatever procedures come next.
Saturday, it was 80 degrees but in one past exercise they told us it was 50 outside. As someone who spent the day shivering, those participants have my complete and utter admiration.
The volunteers and I went through three different scenarios (and three different decontamination processes). We were hot, cold, hot, cold, and a lot of donated clothing was cut off of us. I was extremely impressed as the supervisors and medical personal advised soldiers what they could expect in these drills.
The volunteers were giving and awesome, but not nearly as giving as the soldiers who risk their lives and work to save others. For me this was a practice session and a life experience to apply to my writing. Amazing to think that in the future, these men and women of our military may be called to a scene that is NOT a re-enactment.
I never recommend being a victim on purpose. But in this case, if you ever have the opportunity to help an emergency preparedness team, by all means, “Go for it.”