Calif. first responders train for plane crash incidents

About 300 first responders took part, and EMT and paramedic students portrayed injured passengers to test emergency readiness

By Brian Whitehead
San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — An Airbus A320 carrying 60 passengers and four crew members crash lands at San Bernardino International Airport. Airport firefighters arrive first and get to work removing survivors from the plane.

What happens next?

Organized mass chaos.

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, the airport, San Bernardino County Fire, San Manuel Fire and Cal Fire officials collaborated on a drill aimed at testing the emergency readiness of their teams and those of at least 20 other area agencies. About 300 first responders took part. EMT and paramedic students from Crafton Hills and Victor Valley colleges portrayed injured passengers.

San Bernardino County Fire Assistant Chief Dan Munsey likened the exercise to batting practice. Emergency personnel must train under stressful circumstances, with realistic carnage, to prepare themselves for the real thing, he said.

"Our crews have mastery of the daily, high-risk, low-frequency events," said Michael J. Smith, San Manuel's fire chief. "What's so important here is they're using the skills they don't get to use every day."

An exercise such as Wednesday's gives neighboring agencies the chance to burnish their respective crafts and build relationships, said Mark Gibbs, the airport's aviation director. Familiarity with other emergency crews ensures organization amid mass chaos, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires triennial training exercises to test the capabilities of airport and community emergency response staff. East Valley agencies host such exercises annually, and on a variety of emergencies.

Teamwork between fire and rescue personnel was apparent in the aftermath of Wednesday's simulated crash.


Twenty of our local first responder agencies, including the San Manuel Fire Department, CAL FIRE, CAL FIRE San Bernardino/Inyo/Mono Unit and San Bernardino County Fire are joined together for the East Valley Multi-Agency Multi-Casualty Incident Exercise. Watch as they respond to a staged plane crash at SBD International Airport as part of this year’s training.

Posted by San Manuel Band of Mission Indians on Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Actors playing passengers who were able to walk out of the plane were led by airport firefighters to a triage area for "treatment." First responders re-entered the plane to rescue those with more severe "injuries." As more agencies arrived, officers at a makeshift command center disseminated duties.

Passengers -- with realistic lacerations, scrapes and burns -- were "evaluated" by medical staff and taken by ambulance to hospitals. One man even appeared to have lost half his hand.

"You can never have too much training," said Tracey Martinez, a county fire spokeswoman. "You can never exercise your emergency skills too often."

In coming days, each agency will dissect what went smoothly and what skills could be improved.

Emergency readiness is vital, said Cal Fire spokesman Henry Herrera, who added that agencies may often need to work together as in Wednesday's simulation.

"For all of us to be available and ready to respond to a situation like this and be able to provide that emergency response to the public and prevent further injury from occurring is extremely important."

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