Emergency responders from around the Homer area responded to a worst-case scenario Saturday, a fake bomb threat on a plane, followed by a live mock crash at the Homer Airport. The drill, organized by state officials and local authorities, not only allowed the city to test its disaster response plan, but it also maintained certifications that allow Homer to provide vital emergency services.
“Without this exercise every three years, we’re not in compliance with our firefighting program for FAA,” said Kevin Jones, manager of Homer’s airport.
He addressed about 35 volunteers with fake wounds, broken bones and a host of other injuries. A few minutes later, they played victims on a Dash-8 aircraft that crashed off the runway. Homer’s primary commercial airline, Ravn, lands about six Dash-8s, which can carry up to 40 passengers and crewmembers, daily.
This drill, required by the Federal Aviation Administration, maintains a certification that allows larger commercial aircraft to fly in and out of Homer.
Just off the runway, victims sat in an old school bus, simulating the crash.
“Homer fire, Homer fire, please respond to the Homer Airport for an airplane crash on runway four,” a dispatcher called out over the radio, setting the exercise in motion.
As emergency responders arrived on the scene, they immediately began triaging victims. Walking wounded were taken out first as others with more serious injuries were sorted based on their condition.
It’s not just area fire departments and airport personnel that got their practice in. The Homer Police Department responded as well and just a short ambulance ride away, both the South Peninsula Hospital and Seldovia Village Tribe Clinic took in victims.
“Patients have arrived with multiple injuries, crushed chests, abdominal injuries, several folks who would require surgery in the operating room,” Hal Smith said, director of the hospital’s emergency department. “Other folks needed blood products, IV fluids, and there are quite a few fractures and broken bones. So, pretty much what you would expect out of a plane crash.”
As three ambulances transported victims from the crash site, about six physicians and several other medical staff re-triaged and treated patients.
The hospital is a level-four trauma center, and this exercise maintains that certification with the state. Smith notes drills like these are also important for pinpointing issues.
“We have a nine-bed ER. We usually have one physician on board. So the number we had here, anywhere up to 30, would be something that we would have a great difficulty handling,” Smith explained. “So knowing how to handle that number of patients, how to get them to the right place at the right time, triage them to our local services, and transfer them to places we could care for them once our facilities are exhausted.”
After the drill ended, participating agencies sat down with two observers from the state’s Division of Homeland Security to hash out what could be improved.
Homer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter is one of the primary organizers the exercise. He thinks everything went smoothly, but he added communication will likely be on the list of improvements.
“Which is a common issue with mass-casualty events or disasters,” Painter said. “Because we had six, seven agencies dealing with the event.”
Smith agreed with Painter’s assessment, and he said victims were taken in effectively and treated.