Maine emergency responders train for anthrax scenario

Emergency responders from Maine attended a training exercise on Tuesday at the VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus as part of an anthrax bomb simulation.

The responders dealt with dozens of simulated fatalities from two explosions, including the explosion of an anthrax-laced bomb. The simulation was meant to improve coordination skills between municipal, private and federal agencies, the Kennebec Journal reports.

"You hope something never happens, but you want to exercise to make sure you've gone through it," James Doherty, the Maine VA Medical Center spokesman, said, according to the Kennebec Journal. "You realize your strengths and the areas that can be improved."

The more than two hour exercise allowed responders to practice wearing protective gear, treating patients in a decontamination station and bandaging and loading passengers into an ambulance to be taken to larger Augusta and Waterville hospitals. High school students from the Augusta-based Capital Area Technical Center stood in for the patients during the exercise, according to the Kennebec Journal.

In July 2010, James Popkowski, a former Marine and disgruntled patient, fired several shots at the hospital that came within several feet of patients and staff. Popkowski was later shot and killed by VA police and Maine game wardens. The shooting has left an impact on medical center staff.

"We don't have to spend a lot of time convincing people to take a drill seriously," Ryan Lilly, the director of the medical center, said, the Kennebec Journal reports.

Lilly said that the shooting shows how important it is to practice responses to different emergency situations.

The exercise attendees included members of Maine's Army National Guard Civilian Response Team, Delta Ambulance, the Maine Emergency Management, the Kennebec County Emergency Management, the Augusta Fire and Rescue and the VA Office of Emergency Management.