Building Community Resilience with Careflight

Rural trauma – a high-speed vehicle roll over, a farming accident with a chainsaw, a gas BBQ explosion at the family picnic.  These are all scenarios that may affect individuals & families…and the rural community.  Occasionally a multi-agency event such as a bushfire, extreme weather event or other natural disaster will cause traumatic injuries and impact on not just local community but also on State resources.

Whilst it is true that each State has well-developed retrieval services, whether land, fixed or rotary-wing, the reality is that the help they can offer is usually distant to rural folk; response times are measured in hours, not in minutes or seconds.

For all practical purposes these services might as well be on the moon in the face of truly urgent care (catastrophic haemorrhage, impact brain apnoea, compromised airway, delivery of effective analgesia etc).

The first link in the trauma chain of survival is invariably the first responder – he or she may be a rural volunteer in a service such as ambulance, fire, SES , coastguard…or may respond as part of their job role (eg: Parks officer, tour guide)…or may be a lay member of the public who comes across an incident and is thrust into the maw of trauma care.

This impromtu response what Christina Hernon defined as the ‘immediate responder’ in her excellent talk on ‘the disaster gap’ at smaccDUB.

The Disaster Gap is the time between the moment an incident occurs, through the first call for help, and until the first of the clearheaded First Responders arrives. In this definable time gap, the only available rescuers are people who are on scene when the event happens, who may be traumatized by their experience themselves, and who, regardless of tools or training, take immediate action to help another person or make the situation better.

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Of course many organisations insist on their members having an advanced first aid qualification; whilst these are useful, their proscribed content often lags behind current trauma care delivery. First responders are the initial link in the ‘trauma chain’ and there is no reason not to equip them with appropriate skills, knowledge and equipment – regardless of agency!

Whilst most interagency training is focussed on ‘mass incident’ exercises as a learning exercise, the reality is that these rarely, if ever, happen. Most of the work is in the usual business – a vehicle rollover or crash, an injured bushwalker, a farm accident, a patient needing medical care but unable to use the stairs, requiring SES and Ambulance teams etc – and yet do we ever train as a team for such circumstances?

Careflight MediSim – Delivering Necessary Trauma Education

This week we were privileged to have a visit from the Careflight MediSim team, to deliver the Trauma Care Workshop on Kangaroo Island, SA.

Launched in 2011, this innovative program from the Careflight organisation (mostly charity funded) delivers a world class trauma education system designed for rural first responders.

MediSim training 2011-2015

Despite the session having to be rescheduled, willing first responders from Parks, CFS and SA Ambulance were able to come together for an interactive day of lectures, task-training and sim sessions under the credible instruction of the approachable MediSim facilitators.
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I’ve been banging on about the need for effective interagency training in rural communities for some time now.  My involvement in trauma nowadays is mostly limited to involvement via the SA RERN system (a doctor responding only when needed by volunteer ambulance officers, with the goal of value-adding by performing certain interventions), in the hospital when oncall for emergency or anaesthesia and of course in trauma education through ETMcourse and EMST etc.

Whilst RERN, SAAS and of course RFDS and SAAS-MedSTAR Retrieval have a role to play, the initial care at the roadside is invariably provided by a first responder.  If lucky he or she may be a part of an emergency system…or they may be in another capacity (CFS, SES, Police, Parks etc). Of course they may also be an immediate responder – a passerby who is caught up in the situation and expected to render help.

Most prehospital incidents will require input from several agencies

At a typical vehicle crash, there will be representatives from Road Crash Rescue (CFS or SES), Ambulance – typically these are unpaid volunteers in rural. Add to that Police, then RERN, and Retrieval…it can be hard to both know ‘who is who in the zoo‘ and more importantly what they can do!

A typical rural road crash (source ABC)


Training together has clear advantages – it emphasises the need for simple interventions to make a difference and that such interventions can be performed by appropriately trained and equipped individuals regardless of agency. It also allows discussion of current protocols and equipment (such as the value of first responders, whether ambulance, fire or SES having access to tourniquets, and a suitable haemorrhage control device).

Simple kit to deal with haemorrhage control – in my opinion this should be in every rural ambulance, SES or CFS truck, police car, parks vehicle and tour bus. Is it?

Understanding and sharing of each other’s treatment priorities (scene control & safety, patient extrication and medical needs) can be practiced by scenario training, allowing effective communication, a shared mental model and planning for ‘the real thing’

It’s time to ditch the notion of each agency training in silos and instead practice regular ‘real life’ multiagency scenarios

The MediSim team provided local Kangaroo Island first responders with a solid foundation to develop further local community resilience.  Lectures covered the concept of a ‘zero survey’, triage. effective handover and of course the nuts & bolts of trauma care.


The Emergency Bandage (formerly known as the Israeli Bandage) – cheap and essential kit for any first responder


Checking out the MediSim ‘crash car’ designed to be used for practice extrication – it would be a simple project to make one of these for local use on KI, potentially in partnership with TAFE & Crash Repairs

The day involved practical, hands on task-training sessions on triage, on helmet removal and immobilisation, on haemorrhage control and basic airway management.

Helmet removal – can be done safely; either let patient do it themselves or perform if trained – but get the helmet off early, not late!

Skills learned in the workshop were reinforced by scenario-based training on managing a casualty, involving scene awareness, leadership, role allocation and the delivery of basic care in an effective manner (simultaneous extrication, treatment and packaging of the patient) underpinned by clear communication both on-scene and with central comms.


Challenges of leadership and teamwork, under stress, with limited resources in an unfamiliar environment – one which KI local volunteer teams coped with exceptionally well

All in all, a wonderful effort by the CareFlight MediSIm team and by the local Kangaroo Island volunteers who gave up their own time to attend this trauma workshop.

I am hopeful that we can run similar exercises in the future using local expertise.  To my mind the benefits of team members who are aware of each other’s roles and operational capabilities, who have trained together and share a common goal offer immediate tangible benefits to victims of trauma.

Moreover we live in a small community – the more first responders who are trained and equipped, the more resilient our response can be – whether for an accident at home, at the roadside or in the case of a community-wide catastrophe.


A Kangaroo Island Resilience Model, akin to those overseas, is achievable if we work together.

Thanks again Careflight for visiting Kangaroo Island – come again next year!

COI – I received a bottle of wine from the MediSim team as a reminder of my time in Orange NSW back in 2011 (anaesthesia training and trauma care). I am not influenced in my report by this gift…although there MAY be a subliminal message they want to convey…


Recommended Reading

Read more about Careflight MediSim HERE

Careflight are also active in sharing their knowledge through social media; check out the Careflight Collective blog here

Learn about how the Isle of Arran (Scotland) has developed a local resilience model for multi-agency training and trauma care

Principles of trauma care are taught on many courses; I recommend

Emergency Trauma Management (ETM) course – (COI I instruct on ETM)

Anaesthesia, Trauma & Critical Care (ATACC) course – (COI am trying to persuade Mark Forrest to bring this course ‘down under’)

The Holmatro Rescue Experience (COI have facilitated with Holmatro extrication guru, Ian Dunbar on this in Australia, mostly teaching SES and CFS volunteers)

Many clinicians worldwide share knowledge and skills – regardless of whether background in emergency, anaesthesia, rural medicine, critical care or whether involved as doctor, nurse, paramedic or volunteer. Our common goal is to care for the patient from whatever background.  By sharing such knowledge we can all become better.

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