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Mock disaster prepares emergency crews for the real thing

May 23, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • Foam is sprayed on an airplane as passengers hurry out of it during a mock drill Monday evening at Hagerstown Regional Airport.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — A smoldering vehicle protruded from the side of a passenger plane. Bodies, supposedly ejected from the aircraft, peppered the airport’s east apron while the flight crew and passengers remained trapped inside the plane. An employee lay on the ground at the Rider Jet Center with a bullet wound to the head as the person allegedly responsible fled on foot.  

Across the rain-soaked tarmac, firefighters, police and rescue workers swarmed to secure the scene, to sort and treat the wounded, and to extinguish flames.

Such was the scene Monday night at Hagerstown Regional Airport as local agencies, organizations, and fire and rescue companies participated in the 2011 full-scale disaster drill.

It was the triennial test of the approved Federal Aviation Administration airport emergency plan and the Transportation Security Administration airport security plan, as well as of the cohesive actions of local agencies in the event of mass disaster, said Ed Rakowski, airport operations and security coordinator.

Rakowski said the probability of an incident like the one staged Monday is remote, but the need to be prepared is great.

“What happens if this does happen and we are not prepared?” he asked. “Would you want to be on that plane?”

About 40 volunteers portrayed passengers and crew, sporting “injuries” for the drill that included 10 agencies and organizations, and 12 fire and rescue companies.

Lesley O’Brien, 17, of Hancock, portrayed an injured passenger.

“It is taking them a long time to get here,” she said. “I imagine we would all be dead if this were real life.”

A card around O’Brien’s neck said she was severely burned on her arm when a fuel truck, hijacked by a terrorist, crashed into the BA-146 on which she was a passenger.

It also told her to remain quiet until rescuers touched her.

After repeatedly being passed over by rescuers, she began to cry out like others portraying victims of the crash.

“Help me! Why are you taking so long?” she cried.

The teen, who volunteers with EMS in Hancock, said she hoped the rescuers were learning not only how to respond to a crisis of that magnitude, but how much time is involved.

Melissa Matheny and her son, Colten, 11, of Hagerstown, also portrayed victims.

Colten said what he was learning Monday was patience as he waited to be treated.

“But we are really enjoying the experience,” Melissa Matheny said.

Actions taken by first responders Monday included dousing the plane and fuel truck with firefighting foam to extinguish flames, treating passengers and sorting them in triage by severity of injury, and transporting the injured to Meritus Medical Center.

After the drill, Rakowski said evaluators briefed participants on the results.

“It went well,” he said. “Everyone responded according to their training and plan.”

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