Arlington students ‘suit up’ as Medical Explorers

ARLINGTON — Chelcie Nielson was steaming as she stood upstairs in Cascade Valley Hospital, but she wasn’t upset.

The Arlington High School senior had just put on a decontamination suit mask and her breath was causing her visor to fog up.

“At first, it’s crazy — you can’t see very well,” Nielson said after she had removed her mask. “This would be hard to do for a long period of time.”

Nielson was one of about 20 north Snohomish County students to try on the specialized suits during the hospital’s first Medical Explorer Post meeting of the school year on Thursday, Sept. 16.

The post, now in its second year, gives high-schoolers a chance to test out various subjects in the medical industry.

In addition to learning about why decontamination is vital in treating individuals exposed to hazardous materials and agents, students at Thursday’s meeting got to don replicas of the full-fledged rubber suits medical responders use during emergencies.

Chuck Broadbent, a medical technologist who is the decontamination lead for Cascade Valley, gave the students a 30-minute presentation on the ins-and-outs of his medical specialty before the teenagers suited up.

Broadbent first asked the students if they had ever been decontaminated before. Nobody raised their hands.

“If you’ve taken a shower before, that’s decon,” he said. “Why would you take a shower?”

Students volunteered answers, including to get rid of sweat and to eliminate body odor.

“You’re right,” Broadbent said. “There are trillions of bacteria just on your hands alone.”

Broadbent spoke about how decontamination teams are typically the first responders certain types of bombs and explosives that contain chemical, incendiary and radioactive agents and other types of hazards.

Their job, he said, is to keep those threats under control by not letting them spread.

“In order to clean people, you have to understand what’s being used,” Broadbent said.

From there, students learned about the process. Patients who have been exposed to hazardous agents must remove their clothes so that they can be sprayed down and cleaned by decontamination personnel.

Soap, water and bleach are the primary methods for cleaning individuals.

Broadbent then led the group downstairs into the hospital emergency room where he showed the students the facility’s decon area.

“As you can see, it’s like a human car wash,” he said, prompting a few laughs.

Once the high-schoolers had a grasp on why decontamination was so important, they got to try on practice suits used during training at the hospital.

Students also put on the necessary boots, hoods and gloves that are required for decontamination responders.

As Broadbent walked around the upstairs meeting room to help students, Jola Barnett, assistant administrator of business services at Cascade and Medical Explorer Post Chairperson, said that she tries to bring in staff members who are passionate about their specialties.

“Chuck does a great job relating to kids,” Barnett said. “It really helps them understand.”

The post began earlier this year, and is available to high schools in Arlington, Darrington and Lakewood. Students must be 14 years or older to take part.

For more information or to get involved, call 360-618-7812.

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