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Alabama Power team takes part in Birmingham emergency response drill, turns actors into patients

With thousands of athletes and fans scheduled to descend on Birmingham for The World Games 2022 this summer, county and city first responders have to be ready for anything – even the unthinkable: multiple injuries caused by an accident or other dangerous situation.

The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), the Alabama Fire College, the Jefferson County Healthcare Coalition, and federal and state law enforcement officers came together April 7 at Legion Field in Birmingham for a mock exercise to test their response to a possible emergency situation during The World Games. But it’s impossible to practice responding to injuries without patients. That’s where a team of eight Alabama Power employees stepped in to help.

The emergency personnel were charged with testing their technical rescue and response skills during a scenario in which victims were trapped when an open concrete roof collapsed due to an explosion.

Alabama Power employees, led by Sheilah Lee, Plant Gaston maintenance specialist, were on hand to turn the “actors” in the scenario into patients by applying makeup and artificial injuries known as moulages. These moulages, or appliances, are made mostly of silicon and can simulate everything from scars to cuts to swelling. The moulage team also applies fake blood, dirt, sweat and tears made from a mixture of gelatin and water and, if necessary, vomit created from Quaker Oats.

Lee, who coordinates Alabama Power’s moulage team, said the members make many of the scars and other injuries on the spot using the silicon wax. The key, she said, is to work fast.

“You stir the silicon in a medicine cup. It’s like peanut butter,” said Lee. “If you’re not ready to apply the scar in one minute, it’s no good and you have to throw it out. Three minutes tops and you should have the person out the door, I don’t care how bad the injury is supposed to be.”

The team’s moulage kit also includes pre-formed broken bones, blisters, fake slime, eyeballs and entry and exit bullet wounds.

The team created injuries for the actors that fit with the scenario. For instance, they placed bleeding contusions on the face of one victim and scars on the head of another.

Because a third victim had supposedly sprained her ankle and injured her wrist, the team used the silicon to make them appear swollen and even placed a bruise on her shoulder.

“We give the actors directions on how to act,” said Lee. “We told the actor whose arm was injured to scream every time it was touched or moved. It’s a test to make sure the first responders are checking the patient completely. If they don’t look at the area that causes the actor to scream, they are not doing their job.”

Lee said the team came prepared for anything because the members did not learn the details of the scenario until the night before the event. They brought nine boxes on wheels and 11 plastic tubs filled with supplies, including seven 2-foot-by-4-foot makeup kits.

“We were well prepared; in fact, we were over-prepared,” said Lee. “I think it was important for the EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and firefighters to see what we do. People expect to see one thing out of us, and that’s their light bill. We’re more than a power company. We are a community-oriented company, and employees wear multiple hats.”

The group also had lots of hands on deck to accomplish the job. Along with Lee, the team included Gaston employees Karen White, scheduler, Thomas Coleman, mechanic, Rick Douglas, maintenance specialist, and Gerson Pickett, compliance specialist, along with Demond Moss, Holt Dam compliance specialist, and Patrice McGraw, Training Center assistant at the General Services Complex.

Alabama Power’s moulage team plays a significant role in Southern Company’s annual Rescue Rodeo, an event in which plant technical rescue teams test their life-saving skills.

Plant employees often work in confined spaces such as boilers or steam drums and could become trapped or injured. During the rodeo, first responders from Alabama Power and its sister companies practice rescue, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first-aid skills. It’s the moulage team’s job to make the patients’ injuries look real.

Lee has been applying “moulage” makeup for more than eight years. She received training during an in-depth two-week military moulage class in Washington, D.C., instructed by a professional who created the moulages for the TV show “The Walking Dead.” She has passed on that knowledge by training the other members of her team.

“You really have to think about what you’re doing when you’re working on the actors,” said Lee. “You know in your heart the injury is not real. But you have to make it look as close to realistic as possible.”

When Steve Hicks, Alabama Power Safety and Health coordinator who manages the annual Rescue Rodeo, learned that local emergency responders would be hosting the exercise in preparation for The World Games, he knew the company’s moulage team could help. Hicks served as the go-between, managing and coordinating the moulage team’s participation in the recent event.

“I have been at Alabama Power for over three years, and one of the first things I noticed was that the company is eager to help the community,” Hicks said. “I believe this exercise offered the perfect opportunity for our moulage team to support the community and use their skills beyond the rescue rodeos.”

Jim St. John, Jefferson County EMA officer, said Alabama Power’s moulage team did a “great job” and helped make the exercise more lifelike.

“There will be 3,000 athletes and 100 nations in Birmingham for The World Games,” said St. John. “The purpose of our exercise was to allow responding agencies to test their procedures and plans, and ensure responders are trained to face any emergency. Alabama Power’s moulage team was a great asset because they helped give the responders a more realistic environment and added to the plausibility of the scenario.”