Red and blue emergency-responder lights were a common sight Wednesday at Laramie Regional Airport. Firefighters were putting out fires, coroners were documenting the deceased and law enforcement officials were talking to volunteers playing the families and friends of the simulated victims.
First responders from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Albany County Fire District No. 1, Albany County coroner and others gathered to prepare for an airport crisis drill. A simulation involved an airplane’s engine catching fire while taking off, and participants would have to fight fires, search for survivors and report information about victims from the simulated crash, Undersheriff Josh DeBree said.
“The initial responders showed up, and we did have an active fire to simulate the plane crash,” he said. “The Laramie Fire Department, Fire District No. 1 and the Laramie Regional Airport firefighters showed up and worked on an active fire, (and) a scenario was set up for the Albany County Coroner’s Office to work the mass casualty side of the things with an airplane crash.”
When a crisis happens at an airport, it requires cooperation with several organizations. Wednesday’s drill provided first responders with experience working together in this capacity. Airplanes have crashed at the airport in the past, but none of those incidents were as large as the simulation, DeBree said.
“It was an organized training,” he said. “The purpose of the training was to work on operation coordination. We’ve had some smaller-scale plane crashes here, nothing to the degree we put in the training scenario though, but that’s why we’re doing them — to be prepared for if and when it does happen.”
Firefighters from Albany County Fire District No. 1 and the airport were the first to respond and quickly put out a simulated part of the plane that was on actually on fire. Central Fire Department Assistant Chief Larry Rinnew said his department would be one of the first to arrive at the scene and the drill was a good exercise to have all the entities working together.
“We would be the third engine after the city of Laramie and after the crash crew here,” Rinnew said. “It went good — I mean, it’s a learning-to-work-together exercise, and that’s the biggest (thing to work toward) — getting all the entities to come together — whether it’s the fire side, the law enforcement side, EMS side, all the way up.”
Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Jeff McKinney said the drill was much shorter than an actual event. McKinney was assigned to secure who entered the area and find witnesses of the incident.
“We responded when we were dispatched,” he said. “Initially, I got here and started pulling perimeter security — securing the scene, basically. Once we got that accomplished, we were tasked with coming out to Cowboy Aviation and contacting everyone in here that was possibly a witness. I thought it went pretty quick, so I don’t know if it would necessarily play out that way for real, but I think they had to do the little time lapse thing so we can move it along.”
DeBree said they try to make the simulations as real as possible.
“It’s going to be on those first responders to set up those initial steps to get the process going,” he said. “It’s a major event that could take place here because of the airport. It gets everybody in that right frame of mind of ‘I’ve been here before, I’ve done this, I know how to do this’. That way, we don’t have confusion when it actually occurs — if it actually occurs,”