Exercise simulates accident

Emergency responders get practice during mass-casualty drill

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— An EMB 145 aircraft from UFO Airlines crashed at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. Twenty-six passengers were transported to the Yampa Valley Medical Center and The Memorial Hospital -- 16 of them were in critical condition. One responding fire fighter was injured and there was one fatality.

Martin Germain suffered multiple wounds and waited for transportation to the hospital from the hanger. "My shoulder was dislocated or broken," Germain said. "I'm hyperventilating and my pupils are dilated. I feel kinda panicky."

Germain was one of 50 volunteers who were aboard the simulated aircraft accident. Responders were careful to not refer to the incident as a crash. "We're not supposed to use the 'c' word," said Chuck Vale, Routt County Emergency Manager.

Every three years, the emergency response community is required to conduct a full-scale mass causality exercise at the airport, but the Routt County EMS Council tries to do a full-scale exercise annually, Vale said.

The airline accident site was broken into four sections. There were crunched vans and shuttle vans, old fuel tanks and a precise fuselage replica, said Darrel Levingston, a public information officer from Routt County Search and Rescue.

When the emergency responders came into the scene, the fuselage was on fire. After the victims were transported to triage, it was ignited a second time. "They made it as realistic as they possibly could," Levingston said. "They came really close to duplication."

Responding agencies included five fire districts: West and North Routt counties, Oak Creek, Yampa and the Steamboat Springs fire protection districts. All law enforcement agencies, including Hayden, Oak Creek and Steamboat Springs police dpartments and the Routt County Sheriff's Department were present as well. Routt County Search and Rescue, a coroner, public health, Social Services, Visiting Nurses Association and Mental Health also assisted.

Lynn Barclay, a public information officer on the scene, said responders were using the government's Incident Commander System. This model is a pyramid delegation system with one central leader and five or six main assistants in the emergency operation center, she said. "The goal is to create a seamless mode of management so that everyone knows what the hierarchy is."

In case of a real airline accident, the communication service and airport would be closed for all traffic except medical flights, Vale said. "The airport is open today. That's why we have to be extra careful. It's typically a chaotic experience that involves an incredible amount of learning. That is going on today, and that's what this is for."

Barclay was pleased with the smoothness of the operation. "I think, overall, everything was pretty well-anticipated and thought out," she said. "But if this was real, we wouldn't be eating lunch and sitting around the table. We would be on the phone talking to media and transporting groups back and forth."

A debriefing was held at the end of the exercise and an accident review was written and presented. "This is the way we get better," Vale said. "We find our weakness and try and fix them to get better for the next one."

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