First responders faced a grim scenario when they gathered for a large-scale drill at the Huntington Tri-State Airport on Saturday.
A Boeing 737 carrying 120 passengers, the majority with mental or physical disabilities, experienced engine trouble before crashing on the runway and catching fire.
As part of the full-scale disaster drill, more than 30 area agencies, including seven fire departments, four emergency medical service stations, two local 911 centers, three local medical centers and a host of county, state and federal agencies, responded as they would in a real life situation.
The drill, required every three years, tested all aspects of an emergency response, from extinguishing the flames to assessing and transporting victims to handling the media that show up at a scene. Local students played the crash victims and were actually transported to local medical centers so they too could get in on the action.
Airport Director Jerry Brienza said operations appeared to be going well Saturday morning. “These drills pull together all our emergency personnel in the region,” he said, noting the face-to-face contact between agencies is the most valuable part of the exercise.
“They may have been talking to some of these guys on the phone for so long, but they have put a face to a name, and then they share what resources they have available, which is usually the breakdown in a lot of these things — whose got what equipment and where can we use it responsibly,” Brienza explained.
“This gets them all together, and they talk and hammer out who has what equipment and how can it be best utilized, and things just start to tie together when they are out here on the scene,” he added.
During a real emergency, Brienza said, responders are not stationed feet away from the scene with gear ready to go and having just reviewed their pre-plans. Practicing helps though, he added.
“In a real life situation, things change, but hopefully they come together and you don’t have to think about it. You just do it,” he said.
Observers from a variety of federal, state and local agencies were also on hand to evaluate the drill and offer criticisms that will hopefully make the next response even better, according to officials. In addition to the large-scale drill every three years, the airport undergoes a “table top” drill annually.
Brienza said he is confident Saturday’s drill will continue to illustrate how well-prepared local officials are to handle any emergency situation.
“I think we have one of the finest regional emergency crews in the area,” said Brienza. “We have mutual aid agreements with all these agencies, and they have been extremely cooperative. All these people have built such a relationship that they know what the other is doing before they even do it,” he added.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 369-2635