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Firefighters practice near Hagerstown airport

August 18, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Drivers who saw firefighters dousing a wingless, dinged-up airplane in an underpass near Hagerstown Regional Airport Monday night need not have been alarmed -- the operation was a drill for area firefighters, Airport Fire Chief Phil Ridenour said.

Between 7:30 and 10 p.m. Monday, firefighters from the Maugansville, Long Meadow and Greencastle, Pa., fire companies practiced using a pipe system built into the underpass where U.S. 11 runs under the airport runway, Ridenour said.

"We were trying to simulate a vehicle that would have been on fire underneath the bridge," he said.

In place of the hypothetical burning vehicle, officials substituted a donated airplane body the airport uses as a prop in its disaster drills, Ridenour said.

The prop was placed under the bridge, on the sidewalk that runs beside the southbound lane, and southbound traffic was shifted to run closer to the median, he said.

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When the bridge was constructed as part of a runway extension about two years ago, a system of pipes and valves known as a "dry standpipe system" was installed to route water under the bridge for firefighting purposes, Ridenour said.

That system allows firefighters to park their trucks a safe distance from the underpass, where the trucks pump water into the standpipe system while firefighters hook their hoses to valves on the wall of the underpass, he said.

"We don't want (the trucks) to go under the bridge in a scenario like that because we don't know what the conditions are," Ridenour said.

About 40 firefighters from the three companies participated in the drill and a 30-minute classroom session that preceded it, Ridenour said.

"A lot of the folks have not had an opportunity to work with that type of system before," he said.

Standpipe systems are common in large buildings, but those typically are filled with water at all times. The system under the bridge is different in that fire crews need to know how to supply water to the system and connect their hoses to the valves on the inside, Ridenour said.

"It's a different type of scenario," he said.

Ridenour said he regretted not doing more to alert people that the operation only was a drill. Some concerned drivers stopped to ask if the plane used as a prop had actually crashed, he said.

Ridenour said he notified the Maryland State Highway Administration about the lane diversion.

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