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Posted on Nov 20, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

And then all Hell broke loose

By James Bradley

We are pleased to be allowed to publish this, the second piece written by the Canadian Commander of the multinational hospital in Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan. As before, we would like to express our thanks to Major André F. Berdais, the Canadian Forces Public Affairs Officer.

And then all Hell broke loose

By Major James Bradley, Canadian Forces, Acting Commanding Officer
Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

Over the last month I have witness two Massive Casualty Evacuations (MASCALs) at the Canadian-led multinational surgical medical center (i.e. the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I was hoping not to have to do another; however, events here have dictated otherwise. On the evening of October 2nd, we experienced a MASCAL that was, in the words of some soldiers here, like a scene from the movie Dawn of the Living Dead.


Across the airfield from our facility is a cement factory. Some local national workers were trying to heat up some asphalt in order to prepare it for the runaway extension. Their safety standards are not the same as found in many Western countries. They poured gasoline on the asphalt and used a blowtorch to light it. The fire became uncontrollable so, thinking they would be able to snuff it out, they closed the lids on the container. As they did this, they created a fuel/air bomb that exploded and sent flames and burning gasoline on to the workers.The explosion was 400 metres from the hospital and was seen by some of our staff. Initially it was believed it was just another rocket attack, but then the call came in for us to send an ambulance. As the ambulance departed the facility a mini-van arrived at the front of the MIR. A Canadian Medical Technician described the scene as something out of Michael Jackson’s video Thriller. The casualties were walking around looking for help – skin, hair, and clothing dripping off their bodies. The Medical Technician quickly directed the casualties to the trauma bays, which at the time was devoid of people. He went to the Duty Officer and requested assistance.

Not knowing the source of the burns, the Charge Nurse ushered all the casualties to the facility shower room, essentially making it an improvised decontamination room. As the casualties emerged they went back to resus for assessment and initial treatment. In the meantime the ambulance that had been dispatched to the scene came back with three additional casualties. There were now eleven casualties from this incident, plus one other emergency patient who had arrived moments before the explosion. At this point the duty physician declared a MASCAL and the recall of personnel was initiated.

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