Airport trains for the worst |

Airport trains for the worst

Responders handle casualty exercises

Margaret Hair

— About 45 minutes after incident commanders gave the all clear for Sunday’s full-scale mass casualty exercise, a few “victims” – still wearing wound makeup – munched on hamburgers in an airport hangar.

More than 80 volunteer victims showed up for the exercise, which staged a fire on a ramp at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and called on emergency responders from Routt and Moffat counties to test their training for the most extreme of situations.

“We had everything from burns to dead – I mean, everything,” said Bryan Rickman, incident commander for the exercise and fire chief of the West Routt Fire Protection District. The training exercise started with a full plane that was being fueled and then caught fire. Volunteer victims – who started an orientation and makeup process at 7:30 a.m. – were assigned specific injuries and positioned before the drill began.

“The injuries looked incredible today,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said. “The kids always like that, and then they role-play really well.”

The exercise, which is required every three years by the Federal Aviation Administration, tested the YVRA and Routt County mass casualty plans and emergency medical services protocols.

Yampa Valley Medical Center and airline control center workers also participated. It was the first test for the county’s new 800 DTR (digital trunk radio) equipment; Rickman said the radios nearly eliminated communication problems that are common to such large-scale incidents.

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“I think this is a major learning experience for the emergency responders county-wide. We find things that we need to work on, and that’s why the FAA makes us do these drills,” Rickman said.

Incident responders also set up a treatment area with beds and patients and put on a press conference with Routt County’s joint information group, a collection of public information officers from various agencies, Vale said. Organizers started the drill at 10 a.m. and closed down by noon.

“I thought the drill went very, very well,” Rickman said. “I’m sure there will be issues we’ll have to work on – there’s always areas for improvement – but I didn’t see any major flaws.”

Any questions of whether the drill would go on through a morning of rain were dispelled by the reality of many emergency situations, Rickman said.

“Airplane crashes happen in all sorts of weather, and often in bad weather,” he said. “So there was no question about whether we were going to do this today – we’re going to go forward, regardless of the weather.”