NORTH BEND — In a flurry of radio calls and a mess of emergency lights, almost 40 first responders descended on Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.
The Sept. 12 rush to North Bend was for a mass casualty simulation, which the Federal Aviation Administration requires once every three years.
North Bend firefighters watch a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter fly off with a victim of a mock plane crash during an emergency response drill Wed…
“The two years previous are table tops and on the third year, the FAA mandates we have a full scale response to a simulated aircraft accident,” said Bob Hood, best known as a local hero for saving the life of Isaiah Metzger and serving as the chief of the Bandon Rural Fire District/SORA Dive Team. However, on Wednesday he was working as the airport’s operations manager.
“I’m in charge of the airport’s rescue firefighting part of this,” Hood explained. “Fire Chief Mark Meaker is handling incident command for North Bend and the U.S. Coast Guard is flying a crew. Everyone has their own operation.”
Involved in the simulation was North Bend, North Bay and Charleston fire departments, Transportation Security Administration, Coos Health and Wellness, Bay Cities Ambulance, Bay Area Hospital, and the U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Bend.
“This is more if we do have a large incident, then we will have worked with each other,” Hood said. “These are the people who come to the aid of the county if there is a big problem. If there is something at the airport, this is the protocol we would use.”
At 5:50 p.m., all three of the Airport Rescue Firefighter Engines were filled with first responders.
At 6 p.m., a call came in from the tower that a jet skidded off the runway with 22 people on board.
Fire and smoke was reported.
“We will be requesting mutual aid from North Bend Fire, who will in turn get Bay Cities Ambulance moving,” Hood said. “Once the ambulance arrives to Bay Area Hospital, the trauma system will come into play. The Coast Guard is also flying a patient out to them. Everyone is getting a drill out of it.”
There are three types of incidents when it comes to emergency events. Alert 1 is minor, while Alert 3 is impending or already happened.
“Tonight is Alert 3,” Hood said.
After the tower reported that a jet skidded off the runway, the engines flipped on lights and sirens and the airport requested support from the countywide Tender Taskforce. This group brings fire tenders to remote sites to refill engines with water. This is important because there are no hydrants at the airport.
Answering the call was North Bay and Charleston fire departments, bringing tenders to refill onsite.
As the fire engines pulled up to the broken jet on the tarmac, which was donated for scenarios like this by REACH Air Ambulance, first responders piled out. It didn’t take long for water to start getting sprayed over the entire plane while firefighters worked to ventilate the craft and check for survivors.
Though 20 of the “passengers” wore tags listing injuries or worse, two were volunteers. SORA’s Account Manager Tara Pierce was in good spirits before being “thrown” from the aircraft and theoretically paralyzed from the waist down.
“My role is to make sure they get the hands-on practice they need,” she said. “I got involved because I work here, but I was excited about going out on a helicopter.”
Pierce is the patient being airlifted by the U.S. Coast Guard to Bay Area Hospital. Once arriving there, she will go through the trauma system.
“This is a first for me,” she said. “I’m happy to be a part of this because it’s a good thing to do for the guys so they get experience.”
North Bend firefighters stand near a victim of a mock plane crash Wednesday as a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrives during an emergency respo…
On the ground watching the helicopter arrive was Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Fish, the planning officer at the Coast Guard Sector North Bend.
“This kind of training with a mass casualty situation is rare for us, but we do train a lot with the boats,” Fish said. “This is a good opportunity to work a land-based scenario and appreciate the airport inviting us to be a part of the exercise.”
He watched from the ground to monitor the Coast Guard’s part in the training and to see if there could be improvement to report back to command.
“This exercise is helping refine our skills but also develop partnerships with other first responders so if a real event does happen, everything should flow smoother and give us the chance to correct any deficiencies we might find,” Fish said.
By 7:30 p.m., as firefighters cooled down and passed water bottles around, the only area seen needing improvement was communication, which Hood said is usually the case.
“But the more we practice, the more prepared we are,” he said.