Plane crash simulated to train first responders

The MU Fire and Rescue Training Institute operated the crash simulator.
The Columbia Fire Department drenches water on a mock airplane accident Thursday night at the Columbia Regional Airport. The Boone County Fire Protection District and the Southern Boone Fire Protection District also participated in the event, running several drills and exercises.

Volunteers acted out life-threatening injuries as firefighters worked to put out a blaze during a training exercise Thursday at the Columbia Regional Airport.

This was part of a simulated plane crash to help emergency responders practice for a mass casualty incident involving a 50-passenger aircraft with a post-crash fire.

About 40 people acted as injured passengers during the drill, according to a news release from the Columbia Public Works Department.

Most volunteers were MU students or from the American Red Cross and the Boone County Health Department.

Emergency responders treated the "injured" participants and practiced medical care techniques including triage, treatment and transportation to local hospitals. Rescuers also practiced search and rescue techniques in the fields surrounding the runway.

Sophomore Diana Staub came into the drill with no knowledge of what she would be doing, though organizers told her to bring a change of clothes.

Organizers had Staub act as a pregnant woman with severe injuries in her right arm.

"Luckily, the baby was OK," Staub said. "Although, the decontamination was embarrassing, cold and wet."

Firefighters scrubbed Staub to wash off possible contaminants that might exist in a real accident.

"It was surreal to see people around me dying and know that this could actually happen in the world," Staub said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Missouri Department of Transportation purchased the Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Trainer used during the exercise, the news release stated.

The MAFT used Thursday is the largest of only four that exist in the U.S., said Mark Lee, aircraft, hazmat and program manager and Fire and Rescue Training Institute manager.

The simulator folds up to travel around the country. It is used at airports in Nashville, Houston and more for 12 to 15 simulations a year. The stainless steel and aluminum craft costs more than $1 million. MoDOT has had it for nine years.

MU's own Fire and Rescue Training Institute operated the simulator.

This simulation fulfilled the FAA requirement for a full-scale training drill every three years to test the emergency plan at airports, according to the news release.

"It has been several years since we have had to do a training drill," Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said. "This drill is required for airports that have more than 30 seats. Our airport now has a 50-seat regional jet."

The last time Columbia held the drill was in 2002, Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Sapp said. The airport returned to using 50-passenger jets in spring 2010, so it needed to hold another drill.

Meetings have been taking place between participating agencies for the last three months in preparation for the event, Stedem said.

Other agencies assisting with the drill included the Boone County Sheriff's Department and Fire Protection District, Columbia Police Department, FBI, the MU School of Natural Resources and University Hospital.

"Our goal was to treat this drill with as much realism as possible," Sapp said. "We ran a series of scenarios and trained as we would actually respond. We want to learn. That's why we do these: to find our strengths and weaknesses. We want to improve on strengths and fix weaknesses."

Sapp has been involved in many similar training drills around Columbia, including oversight of the annual Memorial Day Air Show. Sapp has also witnessed emergency programs around the country and claims the Columbia procedure rivals any in the nation.

"Overall, the drill accomplished its goals," Sapp said. "A lot of people got a lot of experience tonight."

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