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Drill mimics plane crash

Response refined at mock disaster

R.J. Kelly, The Daily Gazette, September 10th, 2006


Occasional moans rose over a field and a couple dozen people lay sprawled in the grass with what appeared to be blood staining their faces and arms Saturday as rescue crews hauled firehoses and rescue equipment from trucks and ambulances.

Fortunately, the wounds weren't real, but the complex disaster exercise brought scores of participants from the Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, area fire departments, police and emergency medical crews to the scene of a simulated crash of one of the huge C-130 cargo planes that regularly fly from the nearby Stratton Air National Guard Base.

A yellow school bus at the edge of the woods behind the East Glenville Fire Department stood in for the fuselage of a downed aircraft, and volunteer victims from the Boy Scouts and Civil Air Patrol and junior airmen from the Guard acted out their detailed injuries as they wandered around in an apparent daze.  Some lay on the ground as firefighters in silvery protective "aircraft proximity suits" helped them fro the "wreckage" and rescue crews lashed them to stretchers lined up near waiting ambulances.

"We try to iron out the kinks," said drill leader Lt. Col. Ernie Grey, in order to learn about anything that might slow communication or an organized response from the military, police, fire and rescue crews sometimes using different equipment or procedures during a real disaster. 

"I'm learning a lot of military lingo," noted East Glenville Fire Chief Arnold Briscoe, as he coordinated efforts at a mobile command post.

"The military has a lot of acronyms, and it took us a while to figure out we were really talking about the same things," he said later.

While emergency drill are held regularly, Grey said Saturday's was the largest he recalled in the five years he's been dealing with training at the Stratton base.

After meetings to evaluate the four-hour drill, Briscoe said "it went very well."  Dead reception spots preventing portable radio communications were a problem that must be overcome.  And even though it was practice, Saturday's warm weather quickly tired firefighters wearing heavy gear, he noted.

From a civilian standpoint, Glenville Supervisor Frank Quinn said local officials and emergency responders needed to fine-tune policies under the National Incident Management System used by federal agencies.

While the air crash scenario was new, Quinn said local plans are set up to deal with "fires, floods ... or if the Gilboa Dam went down."

In a military plane crash, local police, fire and rescue crews might be first on the scene, Quinn said, but eventually, the military would take over the main crash site, while local agencies would help secure the surrounding area and coordinate the rescue traffic.

"It could involve major road diversions for days," said Glenville Police Chief Mike Ranalli as he observed the organized chaos of firefighters and rescue workers criss-crossing the field carrying gear and victims.

"It's a little scary," admitted Junior Airman Megan Lane, 17, of Saratoga, as she lay on a stretcher with her head constrained by an emergency neck brace.  "You think that this sort of thing actually happens - it's scary."

An instruction card she wore indicated that she was supposed to be suffering from a bump on her head, dizziness and lacerations.

The cards also bore numbers to identify the priority of victims as they were transported to Ellis and St. Clare's hospitals in Schenectady.  About 30 of the 40 simulated victims were actually taken to the hospitals or to a nearby staging area in the Kmart parking lot.

In addition to honing field rescue skills and communication systems, part of the drill was to see what the hospitals would do if they were overwhelmed.

As it turned out, Briscoe said, some hospital personnel apparently thought Saturday's drill was just a paper scenario and "were a little surprised" when actually "patients" started showing up.  "But once they did, it went smoothly," Briscoe said.

Some victims, like 10-year-old Boy Scout Ricky Warden of Troop 34 in Niskayuna, also were sprayed with a water mist to decontaminate them of possible aircraft fuel.

"I learned how they handle a lot of stuff," said Warden matter-of-factly.  His victim role was also fun, he said.