Simulation at airport mimics real crash, fire
Rick Kelley | Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, November 10, 2017 9:31 pm
HARLINGEN — It isn’t easy simulating disaster and a response, but every three years, Valley International Airport is mandated by federal law to do just that.
Yesterday was one of those days.
With a Fedex Airbus 300 generously donated as a prop, and towed to a remote part of the airport by a low-slung tug, the scene was set for fire, smoke and performances by 117 Texas State Technical College nursing and EMS student-actors in a mock crash.
“It gives victims and first responders a look at the actual size of the aircraft,” says Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation for VIA, said of the Fedex jet. “It puts everything in perspective for them.”
As the TSTC students disembark from their buses into a gloomy, rainy and downright chilly morning, their disaster makeup and costuming look real — fake blood, ripped clothes and blackened faces greet the gray day.
“Here come the walking dead,” says Pete Moreno, an observer with the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation.
The actors/victims take their places on the damp tarmac beneath the wings of the Fedex jet and wait for the script to kick in.
“Oh, my God, it’s cold. That’s why I didn’t wear tights, girl,” one nursing student says to another as she tries unsuccessfully to find a spot out of the brisk wind.
The trigger to start the exercise is a small controlled fire which is lit by one of the firefighters at the scene. At that moment, emergency texts go out to airport rescue personnel, all participating fire and ambulance services, area hospitals and federal agencies.
The disaster is on.
Joseph Hilliard works for NJ Resources, a company which specializes in crisis and disaster management and training, which was hired by the airport. He introduces himself as “the wedding coordinator.”
As always, he says, different wrinkles are thrown into each simulated incident. Today’s involves a diplomat on the plane that crashed who is surrounded by armed security, and he can’t be removed from the plane by rescue personnel until a State Department representative is contacted due to the sensitivity of the case.
“We coordinate all the role-playing — and the safety,” he says
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