Exercise Viperfish: simulation tests readiness of medical team

Exercise Viperfish

A member of the Canadian Forces Health Services (Pacific) transports an emergency oxygen inhalator during Exercise Viperfish. All photos: Peter Mallett/Lookout

Peter Mallett, 
Staff Writer

The Helicopter Pad of the Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) (FDU(P)) in Colwood became a scene of fictitious submarine search and rescue (SUBSAR) incident which resulted in simulated mass-casualties on Oct. 4.

In a made-up scenario titled Exercise Viperfish, a large fishing net near Port Renfrew entangled a disabled submarine’s turbines, causing the sub to lose buoyancy and sink 170 metres to the ocean floor.

Base Flight Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Ian Kirby of Canadian Forces Health Services (Pacific) (CF H Svcs (P)) said the exercise was vitally important to the readiness of his medical staff.

“It is a great opportunity to troubleshoot potential problems with the divers and submariners managing important parts of the kit such as [decompression] equipment,” LCdr Kirby said. “It also allows us to apply our medical concepts on a new platform which we could potentially use in a real scenario.”

LCdr Kirby, Medical Exercise Director for Exercise Viperfish, was responsible for designing the scenario and planning the execution.

A crew of 59 submariners acted as casualties while the medical response team of 60 military personnel, including CF H Svcs (P) and the Canadian Submarine Force (CANSUBFOR), orchestrated a response.

All required equipment to respond to the SUBSAR incident (Dive Special Equipment Vehicle, Medical Special Equipment Vehicle and all SUBSAR gear) was transferred on site by the Special Purpose Vehicle section team from Transportation, Electrical & Mechanical Engineering (Base Logistics).

The medical equipment was highly typical of other mass-casualty scenarios and included standard medical and monitoring equipment, intravenous (IV) therapy, and various medical treatments. The most noticeable decompression equipment used was a hyperbaric chamber, operated by clearance divers from FDU(P). The technology uses pressurized oxygen to hasten the removal of excess nitrogen dissolved in body tissue.

Honorary Captain (Navy) Ross Brown of CF H Svcs (P) said exercises such as Viperfish boost the confidence of the medical team and the mindsets of soldiers they care for.

“It tells military personnel taking part as actors that the medical team is here for them,” he said. “This builds confidence in the [soldiers] to complete their mission knowing the Canadian Forces medical system is behind them.”

Sub-Lieutenant (SLt) Andrew Young of HMCS Corner Brook said Viperfish was a great trust-building exercise.

“They are stepping out of their comfort zone a little bit and so are we as submariners. It lets us know who they are and what they can do, and we know what to tell our shipmates in case of an emergency.”

Young played a casualty with injuries, including a facial laceration, smoke inhalation, and hypothermia.

Colonel James Jonasson, Senior Medical Advisor for the Royal Canadian Navy, told the Lookout a similar exercise is being planned for next year in Halifax. He said the goal is to have Exercise Viperfish as an annual event.

(Left) Honorary Captain (Navy) Ross Brown, Vancouver General Hospital Surgeon and Canadian Forces Health Services (Pacific), discusses treatment of patients with medical staff during Exercise Viperfish.

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