How Berkshire County officials stay prepared for mass casualty events


PITTSFIELD A shooting took place at a college in Berkshire County 25 years ago, but the type of mass-casualty event that occurred in Las Vegas on Sunday night has never happened here.

That doesn't mean it couldn't happen here.

Although an incident of that magnitude is almost impossible to predict, local first responders said Monday that they are prepared if something like that happened in the Berkshires.

"The possibility exists in small-town America," said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, referring to the December 1992 shooting at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington in which two people were killed and four were injured.

"These events happen," he said. "I'm sure it's a conversation that took place around coffee tables in all the (Berkshire police) stations today."

In Sunday's incident, almost 60 people were killed, including an off-duty police officer, and more than 500 injured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a outdoor country music concert.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker offered his condolences to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday, and offered to help in any way that is needed.

"I told him that I have three kids," Baker told the State House News Service. "They go to concerts all the time, and there but for the grace of God."

Baker said he and Sandoval talked about how this "could be any kids, including our own."

If such an incident were to happen in the Berkshires now, each municipality's mass-casualty plan would go into operation, Czerwinski said. In Pittsfield, the plan goes into effect if 10 or more people are killed.

"In that, we've got all the resources that should be readily available to use, like mutual aid ambulance services," he said. "We also have a mutual mobilization plan across the state."

In that situation, Czerwinski said, patients could be transferred from Berkshire hospitals to other health care institutions to free up beds for people who would need them. Medical evacuation helicopters could be also be used to transfer critically injured patients to regional hospitals.

Pittsfield is one of two sites in Western Massachusetts where a Mass Casualty Trailer is located, according to Brian Andrews, president of County Ambulance in Pittsfield. The trailer belongs to Western Mass EMS, a nonprofit that represents hospitals and health-related organizations in the four counties in Western Massachusetts. One trailer is located at County Ambulance's office on Dalton Avenue. The other is located in Amherst, Andrews said.

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"It's ready to respond to a large-scale incident," Andrews said. "Within the last two months, we've put active shooter kits right in the trailer. They have the type of information we need, like how to get people out quickly, individual first aid kits, tourniquets, special dressings for chest wounds and stuff like that."

The focus of this month's state EMS conference is on mass-casualty incidents, he added.

"Something like this can he overwhelming," Andrews said. "But we talk about this and train for this."

Berkshire Medical Center is a Level III trauma center, according to BMC spokesman Michael Leary. The closest Level I trauma center to Pittsfield is Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Level I trauma centers have the ability to perform more advanced procedures, such as transplants, Leary said.

If an incident like what took place in Las Vegas occurred here, it would fully tax the response of local law enforcement, said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.

"Based on what little I saw today and what I've seen since then we have nowhere near the resources that Vegas metro has," Wynn said. "We would have to rely on mutual aid from our partners and call in every piece we could get.

"We essentially would have to treat it like a workplace shooting situation and try and get as many law enforcement personnel as we could from Berkshire County," he said.

In the Pittsfield Public Schools, teachers and counselors are trained to deal with problems that students may have in trying to process information that involves a mass casualty incident.

"All of our school adjustment counselors and psychologists are trained for psychological recovery,' said Ann Marie Carpenter, the unit leader for school psychologists and school adjustment counselors at the Pittsfield Public Schools. "We really focus on trying to reduce the traumatic stress response in these situations. We always have to balance the individual needs of the student by providing the safety and structure that school has. You want to maintain as much structure as you can because that's safe while you're addressing the needs of the students."

Outside of school, Carpenter said parents should talk to their children when a mass casualty incident takes place. Connecting with others who can offer support; getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking water to reduce the impact of stress hormones, and avoiding overexposure by not watching news over and over are other key components, she said.

Sunday night's shooting in Las Vegas took place at an outdoor concert, and outdoor events happen frequently in the Berkshires. The Fall Foliage Parade, put on by 1Berkshire, took place in North Adams on Sunday.

"We already work very closely with local law enforcement," said 1Berkshire president and COO Jonathan Butler. "The Fall Foliage Parade already has a security detail with police and state police. We always defer to the municipality. Obviously, when something happens like what happened in Las Vegas it makes public shareholders and groups take a hard look at what they're doing to see if it's enough."

The Lenox Chamber of Commerce sponsored the town's annual Apple Squeeze Festival the weekend of Sept. 22 and 23.

"We already have more of a police presence than we had three or four years ago," said the chamber's executive director Kameron Spaulding. "I don't know how much further we could go at this point. There's only so much you can do to prevent anything."


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