As the saying goes, prior practice prevents poor performance.
Such was the case when several local emergency response entities participated in an inter-agency cooperative drill at Stevens Field (Archuleta County’s airport) last week, simulating a plane crash and subsequent emergency response.
The exercise began with a 911 call at 1 p.m. on April 30 reporting a plane crash. The simulation included two victims who had injuries that commonly occur in such a plane crash.
The training was deemed necessary following the last real incident, which occurred in January.
Airport manager Kate Alfred said that although each responding agency knew what it was supposed to be doing during the January incident, the coordination between the agencies needed to be worked out to help such an incident run as smoothly as possible.
“A drill like this gives everyone a new comfort level. Pilots at the Airport know that the professionals they depend on in an emergency are ready. As Airport Manager I feel confident that we offer a high level of safety. The drill occurred on Wednesday, April 30 and it was an afternoon in which everyone excelled,” Alfred wrote in an e-mail to SUN staff.
Prior to the real exercise, the agencies met to work out a response plan and completed a “tabletop” drill using models of airplanes and emergency vehicles.
A total of six entities participated in the training: the airport, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, ACSO’s Department of Emergency Operations, Upper San Juan Health Service District EMS, the Pagosa Fire Protection District and Archuleta County Combined Dispatch.
The Federal Aviation Administration was notified and the airport closed during the exercise.
The drill included steps such as phoning in the crash to the appropriate agencies (dispatch and the FAA) assessing the crash, looking for smoke or flames, looking for hazardous materials, and assessing and extracting victims.
And, following the drill, Alfred expressed her contentment with it.
“I sincerely hope we do not have an actual need for ‘911’ services at the Airport, however I am much more comfortable with our ability to handle such an event,” Alfred wrote.
And beyond increasing the comfort level of the personnel involved, Alfred indicated the training showed success.
“The hours of work that went into developing the Airport Emergency Plan by all participating agencies really paid off. The critical time from the moment the 911 call was initiated until the passengers are safely out of the plane and receiving treatment was reduced by almost 50% from our last drill at the Airport,” Alfred wrote.
“The agencies involved — Dispatch, Pagosa Medical Center EMS, Pagosa Fire, Archuleta County Sheriff and Emergency Operation Center are well trained professionals. When they coordinate their efforts to handle any emergency for the people of Archuleta County, we all benefit. It makes you have confidence in the people you turn to at difficult times when you need them most.”