Red strobe lights pulsated against the overcast sky as emergency responders raced to board the plane and attend to the wounded.
But don’t worry: it was only a drill, and no one was hurt.
Well, except the three mannequins on row three of the “plane.”
Multiple agencies from Twin Falls County descended upon Joslin Field, Magic Valley Regional Airport on Wednesday morning to participate in an federally mandated emergency response drill.
“It’s (a Federal Aviation Administration) requirement that we do this drill every three years,” said airport Manager Bill Carberry.
Members of the Twin Falls Police Department, Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, Twin Falls Fire Department, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, multiple EMT companies, the Twin Falls County coroner and numerous other volunteers took part in the drill. In total, nearly 200 individuals participated.
On this day, the simulation involved a small commercial plane carrying approximately 40 people that crashed on the runway, breaking in half near row three — thus killing the mannequin passengers — injuring dozens and starting small fires along the runway. Fire engines arrived at the simulated wreckage to douse fires, and firefighters hit the asphalt to reach the plane, making sure to check some vital details upon entering the craft.
“They will check to shut down all systems, turn off the oxygen — which is a highly combustible gas — and look for placards to denote if there are any hazardous materials on board,” said Jim O’Donnell, a member of the Airport Advisory Board. Also the chaplain for Idaho State Police and the sheriff’s office, he spent months organizing the scenario and its participants.
Since it was pre-determined that there were no hazardous chemicals, responders then evacuated passengers — played by real volunteers from the community — who were well enough to flee on their own. The simulation was detailed down to firefighters using neck braces and backboards on “injured” passengers who were unable to move without assistance.
Meanwhile, officers formed a perimeter around the airport grounds to control who got in and out of the gates, corralling victims’ family members and the media to designated waiting areas in the terminal.
Later, ambulances took the volunteer passengers to the hospital, continuing the simulation beyond the airport’s boundaries as firefighters continued to put out the blazing inferno — not real, of course.
In a real emergency, calls would be made to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board bureau in Seattle, which would immediately send a team of investigators.
Later in the afternoon, the agencies gathered to debrief on the drill and hear reassuring recommendations from FAA evaluators, who were on site.
There were a few snags when it came to communication — different agencies utilize different frequencies. But otherwise, everyone did just what they needed to do.
Bradley Guire may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 735-3380.