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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Airport Plane Crash Drill Delivers Hands-On Practice

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, November 30, 2006

Emergency medical technicians delivered emergency assistance to "victims" of a staged Harriman-West Airport plane crash.
View Slide Show
North Adams - The scene appeared grim; a small passenger airplane made a mid-afternoon "emergency landing" and "crashed" into the side of the Mohawk Soaring Club building at the Harriman-West Airport.

Assess And Assist

Numerous incident "victims" were strewn about the ground, impacted by multiple and, in most cases, severe injuries. An emergency response was rapid and complete; North Adams and Village ambulance services ambulances and emergency medical technicians burst onto the scene followed by city fire trucks and police cruisers. EMTs, police officers and firefighters were seen assessing the situation and assisting "victims."


An EMT and a North Adams firefighter aid an injured "victim" while another firefighter replaces an oxygen supply tank during a Nov. 29 mass casualty drill.
Adams emergency services workers were called at the airport scene after the first group pf responders arrived and at the North Adams Regional Hospital, members of the Clarksburg Volunteer Fire department erected a decontamination unit outside the hospital emergency department doors. NARH medical personnel were called to the hospital from their homes and some of those at work were called from different hospital units to assist at the ER.

First Mass Casualty Drill At Airport

The Nov. 29 mass casualty drill benefited every participating agency, according to drill planning committee members John Meaney of the North Adams Ambulance Service and Shawn Godfrey of the Village Ambulance Service.

"I believe this is the first time we've drilled a mass casualty situation at the airport and we've reached out to a lot of agencies," Meaney said as the staged drama unfolded at about 3 p.m..

The drill was concluded at about 5:30 p.m..

"It looks like it's going very well," said Godfrey from the airport site.

The emergency response was set to be critiqued by numerous emergency services professionals once the exercise was completed, said Godfrey and Meaney.

Additional drill planners were Daniel LaPlante of the Adams Ambulance Service, Paul Donovan, physician director of the NARH Emergency Department, and city Fire Director Stephen Meranti.

Identify And Solve Potential Problems

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Fine and Performing Arts curriculum students acted as "victims," and delivered extremely believable performances as individuals who sustained serious injuries, experienced shock and hysteria, or were among the drill's four "fatalities." Many of the "injured" sustained facial burns, respiratory difficulties, and one "patient" was scripted as a paralyzed person.

EMTs remove a "victim" from a mass casualty drill scene.


Clarksburg Fire Chief Carlyle Chesbro Jr. evaluated drill benefits as he participated at the NARH site.

"We all get to experience how we work together, how to communicate, how to work out issues before there is an actual incident," Chesbro said. "We get to see who we are working with."

For example, a hand-held radio communication issue was identified at the hospital between the exterior decontamination unit and the interior emergency room during the drill. The matter was resolved as the drill progressed and is unlikely to present a problem in the future, Chesbro said.

"Code Red"

One side of the emergency department was dedicated to assist the drill "victims" and legitimate ER patients were assessed and treated on the opposite side of the recently-renovated unit. Donovan and Dr. Ronald Durning were part of the drill response team as was NARH Physician's Assistant Vicky Maxwell.


Clarksburg Volunteer Fire Department firefighters erected a patient decontamination area at the North Adams Regional Hospital and donned protective attire.
Drills prepare hospital staff for worst-case scenarios, Maxwell said.

"It gets staff used to the idea that this could happen," she said.

The hospital identified the situation as a "Code Red," said Community Relations Director Paul Hopkins. NARH has issued "code red" designations to real-life situations, including fires and other incidents, he said.

Change Of Script

The drill was not staged as an easy exercise; traffic was significant during the late afternoon and the access road to the airport is also an entrance and exit for a Stop & Shop supermarket, a liquor store, and a video rental store. City elementary schools had dismissed students moments before the drill launched, as did the Charles H. McCann Technical School, and school busses traveled city streets during the drill.

North Adams Ambulance Service EMT-Intermediate Scott Spring is a 16-year veteran of the NAAS and numerous drills. The airport drill introduced a different scenario than many drill situations, he said.

"I've participated in about 20 drills and usually,it's a bus-vehicle type of thing," he said. "This time, the incident was different and the casualties were different. That is a good thing, it gets people involved in some different responses."

A "victim" is treated at the NARH Emergency Department by ER staff member John Ciuk.


Good To Be Involved

MCLA student Jeremy Kerr was among the 16 incident "victims." Kerr participated throughout the entire drill and was among the participants transported via ambulance to the hospital.

"There are a whole bunch of [MCLA performing arts students] that are part of this and it feels good to be involved," Kerr said. "It's been good working with the EMTs and the people at the hospital."

The hospital must perform various types of drill on a regular basis to meet accreditation requirements, said Community relations Director Paul Hopkins. Participating emergency services providers drill within their own agencies and participate in group drills regularly.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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