11/12/2007 12:00 AM
CORNING -- "Charlie" has been killed many times over by emergency medical technicians and other first responders, but the quarter-million-dollar silicone dummy doesn't seem to mind.
As one of the latest and most sophisticated tools teaching emergency medical personnel about weapons of mass destruction, his sacrifices could save thousands of lives.
Technically known as a simulator, Charlie is the size of a full-grown man, and contains circuitry, pumps and valves designed to react exactly as internal human organs would to drugs, toxins, nerve agents and explosions.
Charlie has been the centerpiece of a three-day training course this week in Corning, where 23 emergency medical responders from Butte, Glenn and other north-state counties are learning how to react to chemical, biological, nuclear and explosive threats.
"He can even be hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor," said Kathy Wall, an instructor from the Texas Engineering Extension Service, which is affiliated with Texas A&M University, the creator of the simulators.
Wall said Charlie, and a smaller pediatric model named "JC," can be programmed to exhibit the ill effects from a number of chemical and biological sources. Those effects can include watery eyes, a runny nose, shallow breathing or low blood pressure.
The dummies can also simulate recovery from the agents, so medical personnel know if they diagnosed the exposure properly, and followed the right protocol, Wall said.
The WMD training also teaches medical responders to recognize potential threats as they approach an emergency scene, activate the appropriate resources, determine the level of protection responders will need, such as hazmat suits and respirators, and decide on the best way to decontaminate victims and the emergency scene.
"Protecting the responders is one of our most important issues," Wall said. "If they go down, they become part of the problem, not part of the solution."
While the simulators are sophisticated and expensive, Wall said it's pretty hard to damage them. "If somebody does something wrong, and we have to declare the patient deceased, we just start over," Wall said.
The simulators, of which there are dozens, were developed at Texas A&M, and technicians there maintain and repair them. "We'll use this one through the end of the week, then ship it back to College Station," Wall said.
"Even if I say it performed perfectly, they'll go through it completely before they put it back into training."
Wall's company provides the training through a grant from the U.S. Office of Homeland Security.
The classes aren't required for EMT certification, but Wall said they are usually full.
Through the use of the dummies, Wall said the classes are about as "hands-on" as WMD training can get.