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Train As You Fight To Save Lives

  • Published
  • By by Tech. Sgt. Julianne M. Showalter
  • 145th Airlift Wing
On a corner of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport 25 agencies and over 100 volunteers gathered to participate in the Triennial National Disaster Medical Systems Exercise to fulfill a Federal Aviation Administration requirement. The exercise goal is to demonstrate the ability to alert, notify, and respond to an aircraft accident utilizing and communicating between various organizations to ultimately recover and render medical aid to victims. A C-130 Hercules aircraft for the 145th Airlift Wing was utilized in the scenario to add realism, and fire-fighters from the 145th Civil Engineer Squadron participated as part of our interagency agreements.

“As we entered the area we had to first suppress the fire on the aircraft. Once we took care of that situation we could locate our victims, look at the status of our victims and give medical aid to the ones that needed it,” said Staff Sgt. Jeret Kinnaird, 145th Civil Engineer Squadron fire-fighter.

The exercise tests the airports emergency plans and effectively establish the Airport Incident Command Center which directs all agencies support to the recovery efforts.

“The ultimate goal is to learn what to do and what not to do in an incident of this type, and be prepared for a real event. We work in crime scenes all the time, but being in this type of incident with this many victims and other partner agencies is different,” said Derek Waller, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Aircraft accidents are rare, but preparedness for such accidents are crucial to ensure that each agency involved can fulfill their role. Planning for the exercise started in March of 2017, and four hours were dedicated to execute this event.

“A live full scale exercise like this really tests our standard operating procedures to find out how we’re doing, find out weak points, and improve. We shut the runway down for safety, and it’s important to practice this here because that’s where it’s going to happen. This is the best place to do this exercise,” said Brian Zoeckler, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport exercise incident commander.

One of the Triennial National Disaster Medical Systems Exercise planners, Master Sgt. Rebecca Tongen, 145th Civil Engineer Squadron, said, “With our fire-fighters being a response capability with the Charlotte Fire Department, it allows personnel to know that if something were to happen to an aircraft or something on the airfield that the military can respond and do what we can to support the public.”

Over 100 volunteers were made up with moulage to simulate the aircraft accident victims, and their injuries ranged from minor cuts to deceased victims. The variation in injuries tests the responder’s ability to triage and prioritized medical aid.
Elizabeth Riddell, Federal Bureau of Investigation intern who volunteered to be a mock aircraft accident victim said, “Everyone wants to know that when worst case scenario happens, that someone will be there to rescue them. That the firemen will be there, that the policemen will be there. When you see this exercise happening, you get a feeling for how good they are at their jobs. I feel very comfortable that in a real situation I’d trust them to come find me.”

When the exercise came to a close and the participants had a chance to breathe, a break-down of the high and low points were assessed for future improvements to the standard operating procedures.

“The motto that I stand by is train as you fight. The only thing this exercise can do is better us as fire-fighters, better us as individuals, and better us as a team with Charlotte fire-fighters. This is to find out our strengths and weaknesses and talk about what we can do to be better,” said Kinnaird.