Keesler moulage team paints exercises with realism

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Medical Group Public Affairs
An explosion causes multiple injuries, some of them horrific. First responders arrive and begin caring for the victims.

While it resembles a scene from the evening news, this and similar events are scheduled training scenarios which include some incredibly realistic wounds. A unique team of Keesler moulage artists creates the "victims" necessary to test first responders' capabilities.

Tech. Sgt. Caroline Bunce, 81st Dental Squadron, leads the seven-person team- two 'official' members, two augmentees and three volunteers who help the team when able.

The term "moulage" is used to describe the process.

Bunce, who has been involved with the "art" for more than a year, explained, "Moulage is French for casting or molding. It is the art of applying mock injuries to train emergency response teams and other medical and military personnel. Moulage may be as simple as applying pre-made rubber or latex 'wounds' to a healthy 'patient's' limbs, chest, head, etc., or as complex as using intricate makeup and theatre techniques to provide elements of realism, such as blood, vomit, open fractures, etc., to the training simulation. The practice dates to at least the Renaissance, when wax figures were used for this purpose."

Bunce said, although the moulage team works for the 81st Training Wing, they primarily support the 81st Medical Group's exercise evaluation team during medical training exercise.

The medical group had sent Bunce to a three-day course in Washington, D.C., for training in moulage techniques.

"I learned the basics of casualty-coloring and how to use various moulage materials. The rest is self-taught through trial and error. It helps to have a very creative imagination. I am creating a 'how- to' binder for future moulage team leaders."

Her desire to add realism to training led her to become a medical-moulage specialist, Bunce explained. "I became involved because, as an advanced cardiovascular life support instructor, I saw a need for first responders and our health-care professionals to have medical simulation that mimics real-life patient care. Medical moulage is the experience-based training tool for our emergency response teams and other medical and military personnel. It provides them a visual learning tool so they can respond in a training environment without the real lifesaving pressures.

"Emergency situations and conditions are never the same and, with the immense training platform Kessler Medical Center has in educating our military health-care providers, I knew this was a perfect opportunity to get involved. Our first responders and health-care professionals all have had classroom and textbook training but, if our moulage team can let them hear, feel, see and smell an event like it's the real thing, we have done our job. Quick reaction time can make the difference between life and death; the mental connection between the injury simulation experience and a real-life encounter has been proven to be a pivotal component in accurate medical intervention."

The team provides moulage patients for any exercise requiring injured victims, including those adversely affected by biological or chemical substances.

Describing the process, Bunce observed, "Depending on the exercise scenario and number of casualties needing moulage, preparation can take anywhere from a couple of days to three weeks. I complete the most time-consuming element, creating injury cards to match the scenario, readiness team being evaluated and, if we are doing training involving a chemical substance, the injuries, signs and symptoms associated with that substance.

"Once I create the cards, I make the needed prosthetic in advance. Prosthetics- making can take days because the materials used must be applied in layers and drying and setting time sometimes can take days. This allows us to moulage a large number of 'victims' in a relatively short amount of time."

Commenting on the team's value during exercises, 81st Training Wing Exercise Chief Thane Halsey said, "The team's actions help enhance exercise situations by providing a realistic appearance for first responders."

In addition to 81st TRW and Medical Group exercises, Keesler's moulage team has routinely supported the 85th Engineering Installation Squadron's Ability To Survive and Operate and Self-Aid Buddy Care training, the medical center's Advanced Trauma Life Support courses, civilian field-training exercise "Operation Alliance" at the VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Biloxi campus and Keesler Family Advocacy Program domestic violence social experiments as well as the 403rd Wing's May operational readiness exercise.

Current team members include Bunce and Tech. Sgt. David Valencia, 81st DS. Augmentees are Staff Sgts. Brandon Otwell, 81st MDG; and Ashly Garcia, 81st DS. Three volunteers assist when able: Staff Sgt. Chique Castleberry and Regina Parker, 81st DS; and Dawn Hitchings, 81st MDG.

Bunce said the team can always use members. Anyone interested in joining may contact Halsey at 377-4050. However, members of the 81st MDG should contact Staff Sgt. Hana Webb in Medical Readiness, 376-3278.