Press-Republican

July 29, 2013

Simulated plane crash prepares responders

By AMY HEGGEN
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — It was only simulated, but bodies on the ground made the scenario of a plane crash seem real at Plattsburgh International Airport.

The training session kicked off at 8 a.m. Saturday with a 911 call that summoned numerous fire departments and other agencies.

The dead and injured lay amid wreckage and debris, with two Clinton County Public Transit buses representing the aircraft, which had split in two.

Two other vehicles were victims of the fake crash, too.

REQUIRED EXERCISE

“We are exercising the airport’s emergency plan,” said Christopher Kreig, airport manager at Plattsburgh International Airport.

Plattsburgh International is required to do so once every 36 months. 

While Saturday’s exercise simulated an aircraft mishap, he said, “we have to be able to respond to any natural or man-made disaster.

Among the possibilities are civil disturbances, or severe weather, such as a hurricane.

“We have several agencies that support our plan,” Kreig said.

SITUATION UNKNOWN

The 911 call brought all of those rushing to the airport as if the crash were real.

The airport’s fire department was assisted by responders from Plattsburgh City Fire, South Plattsburgh, Peru, District 3, Cumberland Head and Morrisonville departments.

Although the firefighters knew it was a simulation, they didn’t know what the situation was until they arrived.

“It’s important for us to be able to practice this,” Kreig said. “It happens, and we want to be prepared for it.”

‘THROWN’ FROM PLANE

What they found were 70 crash victims represented by volunteers, with 12 fatalities.

Some were on the wrecked plane, with others thrown from it, as would most likely happen in a real situation, said Justin Burl of Homeland Security, who was the exercise facilitator.

Some passengers of the cars on the crash site had to be extricated.

“Every victim was assigned a card to label their injuries,” Burl said. “The goal was to maintain as close to reality as possible without the risks.”

The exercise also gave the various organizations a chance to build relationships, so in the event of an emergency they are truly prepared.

“It was a pretty major undertaking,” Kreig said. “It’s the culmination of over a year in planning by the airport staff and partnering agencies.”

‘A GOOD TEST’

Also taking part were: State Police, Homeland Security, CVPH Medical Center, Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, Clinton County Emergency Services, the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross and an attorney from the New York State Bar Association.

“The goal was to exercise our plan and give them the opportunity to exercise their plan,” Kreig said.

The South Plattsburgh Department, which supports Airport Fire, gave directions to the crash site and helped victims, assisted with any fires and completed any necessary extrications, explained Chief Jeff Santor.

“It was pretty realistic,” he said. “It was a good test of response.”

SHOWS OFF RESOURCES

Nine Red Cross volunteers handed out water to keep everyone at the drill hydrated.

“Had this been a real event, we would have done the same thing,” North Country Chapter Executive Director Lynn Gilbert said.

Knowing those from other agencies is important in situations like the one at the airport, she said.

“It’s always a fabulous experience to work with our partners,” she said.

Another benefit was “allowing the community to better understand the resources available to them.”

‘IT WAS SURREAL’

Volunteer victim Heather Garza of West Chazy, an EMT, was told she had a head and chest injury for the simulation.

She, as did the other “injured,” was given a tag identifying their wounds. Others included gaping chest trauma, numerous puncture wounds, burns and broken arms.

“It puts it into perspective, if it’s the real thing,” Garza said. “It was surreal, to see all the trucks come.”

DEBRIEFINGS

Michael Allen, an airport firefighter, thought the drill felt real.

“You put your mind into it, that it’s real,” he said.

Allen said they intend to learn from what went right and what went wrong. An evaluation will be written after a few debriefing sessions, he said.

“Every time we get together, we improve,” he said.