First responders and volunteers practice emergency skills at event at Cedar City Airport – St George News

CEDAR TOWN — A full-scale disaster simulation exercise designed to give emergency responders hands-on practice in dealing with a mass casualty event was held at Cedar City Regional Airport on Tuesday evening.

Rescuers evacuate and treat passengers during a mock disaster drill at Cedar City Regional Airport, Cedar City, Utah, August 16, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News/Cedar City News

The scenario, which involved some three dozen volunteer “victims”, was designed to simulate a runway accident between a small airliner and a helicopter.

An old school bus served as the fuselage of the plane, which had 34 passengers on board. A short distance away, the hull of a helicopter contained six mannequins representing deceased victims, plus a survivor with serious injuries.

At approximately 7:30 p.m., the ignition of some solid rocket fuel sent large bursts of flame and clouds of smoke into the sky, signaling the “crash” between the two planes and the start of the exercise.

The first to respond was a large Oshkosh Striker 1500 airport rescue fire truck, which quickly sprayed water on the flames.

Soon after, numerous fire trucks, ambulances and law enforcement vehicles began arriving in preparation for a rescue effort to help passengers off the bus and treat them for their “injuries”.

Many of the passenger “victims” had applied realistic-looking molded makeup and were instructed to act as if they had a particular injury or set of symptoms. They were sorted into three different groups based on the severity of their imagined injuries.

Mock Disaster Exercise at Cedar City Regional Airport, Cedar City, Utah, Aug 16, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News/Cedar City News

The first wave of passengers who got off the bus were those who could get out on their own. They were taken to a green tarp, where they sat and were treated for minor injuries. The remaining passengers, who ended up making it to the yellow (moderate) or red (critical) tarps, were helped off the bus by firefighters and treated by paramedics.

Airport manager Nick Holt said the exercise is a mandatory event held every three years, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It’s a requirement for the airport to maintain its Commercial Airport Operator Certificate,” Holt said.

Airport operations specialist Tyler Galetka said he and others had been planning the event for the past six months.

“We had a lot of planning meetings. We have involved many entities and many contributions from critical actors,” he said.

Specifically, he said Tuesday night’s exercise was meant to follow the scenario of what could happen if a SkyWest CRJ200 aircraft collides with an SUU Aviation helicopter “and how we would react to that and assess the response.”

Rescuers evacuate and treat passengers during a mock disaster drill at Cedar City Regional Airport, Cedar City, Utah, August 16, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News/Cedar City News

“There are always hiccups in these drills,” Galetka added. “There are always communication losses and breakdowns. And that’s why we do it. The FAA wants us to do this, so we can assess it, see what’s wrong and fix it when a real-life scenario happens and prepare for it.

The Cedar City Fire Department had about three dozen firefighters responding to the incident, along with several fire trucks and other devices. Several Gold Cross crews and paramedics also responded, as did personnel from the Cedar City Police, Iron County Sheriff’s Office, Iron County Emergency Management, Southern Utah University and from Intermountain Healthcare.

Also in attendance were personnel from Cedar City Regional Airport and the Transportation Security Administration, as well as SkyWest Airlines and SphereOne Aviation. Local radio amateurs and other volunteers also lent their support.

Two medical helicopters also responded, one from Intermountain Life Flight and the other from Air Methods Mercy Air.

“Life Flight landed at the scene and participated until notified of another call,” noted Holt, adding, “Classic helicopters were also en route when they received a page and n couldn’t get to the airport.”

Additionally, a MedEx Air One fixed-wing aircraft from Nevada also loaded a patient and took off from the runway during the simulation.

“What this exercise does is bring all the agencies together to deal with if an incident at the airport were to occur,” Cedar City spokeswoman Gabrielle Costello said afterwards. “We have victims who are played by members of the community and who simulate (so that) if something were to happen, how we would deal with it and how we would manage our resources.”

“This is a great opportunity for all of us to work together and resolve these issues so that we can respond as effectively as possible,” Costello added.

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