A full-scale exercise was conducted at the Owensboro-Daviess County airport Tuesday morning, involving employees from each emergency service across the county. Airport Director Rob Barnett was able to secure a real plane from a previous crash landing for the exercise, giving first responders the unique opportunity to perform the crash-landing simulation with a crash-landed plane.

“It provides a realistic, confined space experience and training opportunity for the firefighters,” Barnett said of the plane. “Of course, you can supplement that with smoke and fire as well, and you can also strap in the dummies, so extrication skills can be observed and cutting them out of seat belts with the realistic weight of the dummies.”

Airplanes are designed to crash, Barnett said, so they will break apart and separate upon a crash landing. For Tuesday’s simulation, Barnett borrowed the crash-landed jet from the Bowling Green Fire Department.

“It’s realistic in that it broke apart and separated,” Barnett said of the plane used during the simulation. “This simulation had a small explosion on board five miles out. They crashed onsite, and the airplane broke apart.”

The last exercise conducted at the Owensboro-Daviess County Airport was an active shooter drill. This time, the airport conducted an exercise focused on on-scene security and protection, communications and medical triage following an aircraft crash.

Moreover, this full-scale exercise was written to include all emergency services across the county, including Daviess County Fire Department, Owensboro Fire Department, Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, Daviess County Sheriff’s Office, Owensboro Police Department, AMR Ambulance, two air ambulatory entities, GRITS transportation and multiple counties that participated to provide extra ambulance coverage.

Photo provided by Owensboro Health Regional Hospital

“A lot of moving parts, a lot of coordination, a lot of detail,” Barnett said. “We typically start planning a year in advance. We have meetings once a month with a representative from all the entities — a representative from TSA, a representative from the air traffic control tower. All of the emergency responders participate as well in building the scenario.”

Using the crashed aircraft for the simulation is a unique opportunity for firefighters, who were faced with realistic situations as they came on board the plane to perform rescue duties. Over 200 volunteers participated in this year’s exercise, including about 50 of whom were on board the plane and wore makeup to simulate realistic injuries that emergency responders would likely come across.

Some of these volunteers were covered in fake blood, while others wore prosthetics that simulated a variety of traumatic injuries.

Barnett said the exercise went pretty smoothly, and that all of the involved entities would meet afterward to discuss what went well, what didn’t, and how all emergency response teams could improve for a real-life situation.

“Getting the feedback from people who participated — we’re going to make it bigger and more improved the next time we do this,” said Traci Casallas, a volunteer who works through Daviess County Emergency Management Agency (DCEMA). “That’s why we do this, to realize where our strengths and weaknesses are, so if this ever were to occur — we’re ready.”

Published on October 23, 2019