Training to save lives

Around 100 emergency personnel participated in the exercise at the airport and an estimated half of them were from volunteer organisations. Both the fire brigade and the RFS were present.

Emergency service crews banded together at the Narrandera-Leeton Airport on Tuesday evening for a simulation and training exercise.

The Emergency Airport Exercise is a requirement every two years from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the exercise involved around 100 personnel from the Police, Ambulance, Volunteer Rescue Service, Fire Brigade and Rural Fire Service.

As the Narrandera Shire Council is responsible for the day to day running of the airport, the responsibility for crafting the simulation fell to Local Emergency Management Officer (LEMO) Bruce McBean.

“We get all the emergency services involved and we plan a scenario. We set it up the day before, presented it to them and basically said off you go,” Mr McBean said. “The scenario is actually based on a real scenario that happened in the Bahamas five years ago in a Saab 340 aircraft.

“It’s very wet and stormy weather as the plane’s coming in, and there just happens to be a gust of wind as the plane touches down. The plane slams onto the runway, the undercarriage collapses, the wing folds up and the plane skids off the runway. There are 25 people on the plane, five of which are injured and unable to get out of the plane by themselves.

“So we simulated the aircraft with a minibus. I went up to the tip and I got some doors, and a 44 gallon drum. I screwed the doors together and made a wing, and the 44 gallon drum was the engine. We popped that next to the minibus to give them a bit of a prop. Obviously, we’re not going to spray water or foam all over a real aeroplane.

“To make it a little bit interesting, I stood up on my chair and said ‘right, guys, here’s the kicker. It’s bucketing down rain, the airfield’s wet and boggy. Any vehicle that goes off the runway is disqualified. You’re bogged’. I was actually really disappointed because I was looking forward to saying ‘you’re out’, but I didn’t get the chance, they all did the right thing.”

Practice makes perfect and training exercises like this one mean that everyone can get used to their role and know what is required of them.

“Each of the agencies has a role to play in these scenarios. For example, the Police are usually the first on the scene. They are the primary agency in a multiagency situation, so they’re in control,” Mr McBean said. “The firies then come up and secure the site for safety – make sure it’s not going to explode, or catch fire.

“Then the paramedics will come up, and anyone that can get away from the site by themselves, they’ll take them, they’ll triage them, transport them or hold them as appropriate. The VRA, the Volunteer Rescue Association, will then come along and extract people from the damaged aircraft that can’t get out by themselves. So the VRA went in there with the stretchers that they brought, and got people out and took them across to the ambos.

VRA members and a paramedic take part in an emergency training exercise on Tuesday night.

“The Rural Fire Service, in a situation like this, supports the fire brigade.  So they bring their truck up as the rural fire service can connect and pump water from their truck into the fire brigade truck. They can be the couriers, and repeatedly bring tanks of water,” Mr McBean said.

Emergency exercises have benefits beyond planning. Different organisations get used to working together and have a chance to interact outside of a stressful emergency situation.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to practice our interagency arrangements in a safe environment. We do it a lot at accidents and in emergencies,” said Inspector Kim Traynor, who is also the Local Emergency Operations Controller (LEOCON).

Inspector Traynor said that she was “wowed” at how many volunteers were at the exercise. According to Mr McBean, of the 100 people who attended the exercise, half were from volunteer organisations.

“Each of these agencies conduct their own exercises regularly. The airport emergency exercise is probably the only time we get to work together,” Mr McBean said. “It actually went pretty well. This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I did make a couple of mistakes.

“Luckily we’ve got the Regional Emergency Management Officer, the REMO, he works in Wagga. He gave me a few guiding points at the time – he saved me from putting my foot in it too badly,” Mr McBean said.

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