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Ill. first responders participate in airport MCI drill

Quad-Cities International Airport was the site of a plane crash and fire with multiple patients


Moline Fire Department

By Gretchen Teske
Quad City Times

MOLINE, Ill. — The main runway of the Quad-Cities International Airport was alive with emergency vehicles Thursday morning, despite nothing being wrong.

Instead, emergency crews from the airport and nearby were preparing in case a tragedy ever does happen there.

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) requires the airport to conduct a mass casualty incident training session every three years. Airport Public Safety Manager Chief Jeff Swan said there were 50 volunteers and more than 160 emergency personnel on site. Area fire, police and EMS departments were invited for the purpose of practicing in case of a true emergency.

Prior to the start of the drill, staff from UnityPoint Trinity were on site putting faux wounds and lacerations on volunteers for emergency responders to practice dressing them in the field. Swan said the exercise is important for not only the airport but surrounding agencies because they do not generally get to practice for an event of this scale.

“Hopefully this never happens, so when we come in and train on a mass casualty incidents, we have a lot of training we just don’t normally get to,” he said. “They always have the one-offs like car wrecks or one or two people are in a house fire but they don’t come in and get to have the sense of a mass casualty drill with 50 victims.”

Although the training took place at the airport, it can be helpful for preparing for other incidents. The triage and teamwork skills will remain the same, no matter what the event is, Swan said.

“Especially with a mass casualty, it could be anything from a Greyhound bus to an airplane,” he said.

Thursday morning every volunteer wore a lanyard with a card attached that stated their injuries. At the start of the drill, a call came over the radio stating a plane was inbound, but having engine problems. A second call came over soon stating it was on fire.

Airport personnel in the control tower were aware of the drill and participating as they would in the event of a real crash. The airport continued to function despite the drill, with flights using a separate runway.

For the purpose of the drill, a small apparatus was lit on fire to allow the department to practice. Responders with the airport’s fire department rushed on to the runway to extinguish the fire while others attended to the victims (volunteers) laying around the runway.

Airport CEO Ben Leischner said each member of the airports emergency personnel are trained in fire, police and EMS. They take turns working different shifts to allow them to keep their skills up on each of the three fields.

As more emergency crews started to arrive on the runway, an officer set up incident command for the emergency vehicles to park. Another officer started waving over victims that were able to walk to remove them from the area and to the proper EMS vehicles for evaluation.

After, triage teams came in to asses the victims which included both volunteers and CPR manikins/baby dolls provided by other departments. Once every victim had been checked, another officer with the airport crew began counting to ensure everyone was accounted for.

Most were able to walk off the runway, but a few were designated with injuries that prevented movement. First responders put these people on stretchers and loaded them into waiting ambulances where they were taken to area hospitals.

Moline Fire Department Deputy Chief Kris Johnson said his team started by helping put out the fire then helped with establishing operations, transport and triage.

“We find that we’re able to work through some of the problems we see by having the drill, but its an opportunity for multiple agencies to come together with different procedures to facilitate this exercise,” he said.

Johnson said the drills are great because real-world practice will always win out over simply discussing the plan.

“With every event like this you can try to do it on paper and try to plan it out but until you put all the vehicles and all the personnel in one area, you really start to identify your weaknesses because there may be something that we can work on to do better,” he said. “We find that being out here in the real world ... there’s things that you don’t think about.”

Being able to work with multiple agencies which all work a little differently and use different equipment also enhances their skills, he said. Going through the entire simulation from start to finish allows the different crews to take what they have learned and apply it to other situations.

“Each year that we do this we have improved,” Johnson said. “Even though this is an airport exercise, the part of the mass casualty and triage helps us. Everything that we learned today can be used at other places.”

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