During one of three of city's mock "airplane disaster" trainings, Sulphur Springs Police Lt. Rex Morgan (left) explains how the plane's fuel gets from the tank to the engine Thursday morning so that first responders will know where to stay away from when using extraction tools to cut someone out in the event of an airplane disaster. Also pictured (left to right) are SSPD Volunteers on Patrol (VOP) Lisa Birney, Joyce Vanginault and Bob Birney, and Sulphur Springs Fire Chief Gerry Cleaver.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Flirtin' With Disaster

City's emergency response teams prepare for the worst with mock plane crash drills

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Feb. 17, 2008 - This has been a test. It was only a test. If a real emergency had occurred ... well, rest assured local emergency response teams would have been well prepared to handle it.

Emergency responders participated in the first of two general aviation crash training sessions Thursday morning.

With the number of general aviation crashes continuing to be high over the last few years as more people use personal and company aircraft, the training sessions are good exercises to better prepare emergency personnel to respond as safely as possible "just in case,"  said Sulphur Springs  Lt. Rex Morgan, emergency operations coordinator for the city of Sulphur Springs said.

Of the 1,515 general aviation accidents reported to the National Transportation Safety Board in 2006, 303 resulted in fatalities. From January through November of 2007, there were 1,218 general aviation accidents in the U.S. In 2005, there were only 632 general aviation accidents, compared to 42,884 highway vehicle crashes, Morgan said of NTSB reports.

The first session Thursday targeted three main areas first responders should be concerned with -- rescue, advise and guard.

Rescue involves what to look for in and how to approach a crashed airplane to rescue trapped or injured victims. The session also taught who to contact, or advise, regarding the crash, and to guard the area until the National Transportation Safety Board can get there.

During any aircraft crash, the Federal Aviation Administration would be contacted, and the NTSB called in. (Gear-up landings, by the way, are considered accidents, not crashes, and would not necessitate notifying federal air officials.)

The training follows the plan approved by the FAA, and in fact was the plan Lt. Morgan used during his 15 years with the General Aviation Safety Council. The only difference is that this general aviation safety program has been tailored specifically for this area and the types of airplanes which land at Sulphur Springs Municipal Airport.

This portion of the training involved a lecture, a 23-minute video and a question and answer period conducted by Morgan.  Assistant Police Chief Robert Stidhamand emergency management officials then trained first responders on search and rescue procedures.

First responders heard about hazardous situations which can arise, the different types of fluids involved in aviation crashes, what to do if there are leaks, and tips on other things to look for that will better inform them what they are dealing with and how to properly respond during an incident. For example, they should check the shape of windows -- round windows are indicators the plane has oxygen, while square means they're not pressurized. They also heard about master switches, were reminded never to touch propellers (yes, amputation is possible), basic rules and regulations, who is responsible for reporting what, and that while a crash scene should initially be treated as a crime scene and preserved with limited access, it is not actually a crime scene.

The information will be offered again from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. the next two Thursdays, Feb. 21 and 28, at the Civil Air Patrol headquarters at the airport.

Among those attending Thursday or slated to attend the general information session later include  both certified and volunteer firefighters, law enforcement officers, EMS personnel, Volunteers on Patrol, Civil Air Patrol members, local emergency managements officials and airport staff.

The training does not end Feb. 28, however. In April, first responders, EMS, the Civil Air Patrol  and local law enforcement agencies will be involved in two mock plane crashes.

The first will be at the airport, and require several people to be "treated" and taken to the hospital, while others with more serious injuries will require being flown to a trauma center.

The second will involve locatiing a missing airplane that has crashed in the county, which will involve injuries and Civil Air Patrol's assistance in locating.

Not only do the general aviation and mock disaster training sessions help meet state training standards, they also provide good, practical education for possible situation involving personnel from the various agencies which would be involved, Morgan explained. Firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement personnel responding could also receive continuing education credits for the exercises.

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