WATERVILLE — The SUV that slammed into four cars at Post Office Square last Sunday created a rare combination of events.

The accident, which occurred at about 4:45 p.m. involved six cars and injured six people, and it was serious enough for dispatchers to call all available rescue responders and for a local hospital to issue a special alert.

The scale of destruction, which would have been noteworthy for a highway crash, was especially unusual for 25-mph zone directly in front of the fire station.

And the densely populated downtown location offered bystanders a glimpse into the inner workings of emergency management — the teams that bring order to chaos.

Fire and rescue

While Nancy Hazard, 42, was speeding south on College Avenue toward the square, Firefighter Alan Boucher was talking to his wife on the phone from inside the fire station. Boucher vividly remembers what happened next.

“I heard a squeal and a bang, and I said a few choice words because it scared me,” he said.

Boucher quickly turned toward a window and saw an unlikely sight.

“A vehicle was tumbling through the air,” he said.

The vehicle was Hazard’s 2008 Suzuki SX4, which several onlookers estimated was traveling more than 70 mph at the time of the crash.

Boucher alerted the other firemen, most of whom are also emergency medical technicians.

A lieutenant rushed out the door with a radio to check people for injuries while 21 others quickly geared up.

“We were there in a matter of seconds,” Boucher said.

When the fire station doors opened, the responders saw an otherworldly scene of twisted metal, shattered glass and spilling automotive fluids.

Four vehicles were extensively damaged. Two other cars were also damaged, including one that was pushed into the intersection by a car that was hit by Hazard’s SUV.

Chief David LaFountain said firefighters in this case, like any other mass-casualty incident, fell back on their training and followed protocol.

The first priority is making sure the scene is safe, LaFountain said.

The first priority is making sure the scene is safe, LaFountain said.

Rather than focus immediately on the injured, firefighters used their trucks to block north- and southbound traffic to prevent further injuries.

With the area secured, firefighters assessed each patient’s injuries and set priorities for their care.

LaFountain said rescue workers need to focus their attention on the most critical injuries until there are enough resources to have at least one emergency medical technician per patient.

Boucher said he and another firefighter went directly to the Suzuki, which was on its side facing the direction it came from. Boucher suspected the driver was more seriously injured than anyone else because her vehicle had flipped and rolled, and because it was soon apparent she hadn’t worn a seatbelt.

The SUV was so badly damaged the firemen couldn’t immediately reach the driver, so they quickly gathered extrication equipment.

In the meantime, dispatchers in the police department issued an all hands call — a request for all area rescue personnel to respond to the scene, including off-duty workers. Boucher said all-hands calls are rare. He estimated they happen once or twice a year.

Responders from Delta Ambulance Services were dispatched. Two ambulances arrived with six emergency medical technicians and a supervisor and a third unit was en route from Augusta.

Firefighters secured Hazard’s SUV with Junkyard Dogs — long metal posts that attach to a car’s frame to keep it from rolling. Next, the firemen fired up the extrication equipment.

“We just did a quick cut and folded the roof down, then we went in and pulled her out,” Boucher said. “From the beginning of the crash until we got her into the ambulance was 10 minutes or less. It was a pretty rapid extrication because of her injuries.”

Boucher said he accompanied Hazard in the ambulance on the ride to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer Campus.

Emergency department

Shortly after the crash was reported from dispatch, the emergency department at MaineGeneral issued a trauma alert they call Code 11 .

“It gets extra hands on deck,” according to Medical Director of Emergency Services Scott Kemmerer.

Kemmerer said the code prompts the on-call surgeon and anaesthesiologist to report to the emergency room, as well as the on-duty respiratory therapist and radiology, laboratory and nursing staffs.

Within minutes, a large team was assembled and ready to work.

Kemmerer said only two people with serious injuries arrived at the hospital and one was quickly transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Kemmerer said the hospital occasionally practices Code 11 drills to stay well rehearsed. The practice paid off.

“It went as planned,” he said.

Richard Comstock, emergency coordinator for MaineGeneral Medical Center, said the emergency departments in Waterville and Augusta are prepared to accept at least 10 trauma patients without being overwhelmed.

Comstock designs contingencies and drills to deal with natural disasters, chemical spills, major car accidents and more.

Late last year, Comstock orchestrated a drill that involved the emergency rooms in both Waterville and Augusta.

In the fictional scenario, a tour bus had crashed on Interstate 95 in Sidney, and 10 patients were sent to each hospital. Waterville Fire Department and Delta Emergency Services participated in drill.

“It taxed out both emergency rooms at the same time, but it went very smoothly,” he said.

The ongoing training was tested by a real-life incident in August 2005 when 17 firefighters were contaminated by chemicals during a fire in Albion.

All the patients arrived at Thayer Campus at roughly the same time, but the emergency department was well prepared to handle it, Comstock said.

 

Working the scene

After Hazard was delivered to the emergency room, Boucher returned to College Avenue.

By then, most of the injured had been taken to the hospital and Officer Galen Estes and Sgt. Mike Pion of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office were investigating how the accident happened.

Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey said the accident coincided with the changing of the guard between day and night shifts, so the department sent all the officers, six in total.

The role of police during accidents is to secure the scene’s perimeter and redirect traffic. When the scene is cleared of the injured, police begin the investigation.

Fire Chief David LaFountain said all agencies came together like a well-oiled machine, despite the apparent chaos.

“There was no yelling, no screaming; everything was under control,” he said.

Boucher said he and other firefighters never felt pressure working in full view of about 50 onlookers for about three hours.

“We didn’t really notice the crowd until everything was done,” he said. “You get into your own zone and do what you have to do.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239