Jon Ordway works on a "victim" during the mock drill.
Volunteers from emergency response teams in Minerva and the surrounding communities Sunday, June 3 participated in an annual emergency drill.
Their mission: secure a plane crash site and provide medical attention to any survivors.
Representatives from K-9 Search and Rescue, the Johnsburg EMS and volunteers from Pottersville and Newcomb joined the Minerva’s Volunteer Fire Department & Rescue Squad for the event.
Volunteers began gathering at the Minerva Town Hall shortly after 11 a.m. The Town Hall served as the drill’s command center. Every participant had to check in upon arrival, and when all the volunteers assembled, preparations began.
Patty Warrington, who organized the drill along with Town Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey and Mark Sullivan, briefed the group on the day’s objectives. All three stressed the importance of communication. It was the most important aspect of the exercise, the one that needed the most improvement after last year’s drill. Each volunteer had a radio so they could communicate with people in the field as well as with the communication centers located in the Town Hall and Minerva firehouse.
The actual drill took place in the woods across from Healey Road. The victims — volunteer actors with fake injuries — went to the scene first. After they took their places, a radio call went out announcing the crash. A caravan consisting of two ambulances, a fire truck, and volunteers’ personal vehicles made their way from the Town Hall to the crash site.
While the volunteers knew the location and type of emergency, they had no prior knowledge of the drill’s specifics. Everything they encountered at the scene was completely new, ensuring a true test of the volunteers’ skills in the field.
The first sight that greeted them was a smoking, but thankfully unexploded fuel tank and other bits of plane debris scattered about the scene. The fire department took care of the fuel tank swiftly and efficiently, allowing the EMS volunteers and Cash, the search and rescue dog, to begin the hunt for survivors. There were four in all, with injuries ranging from severed limbs to exposed organs, in different locations throughout the woods. All of the injuries were consistent with what a real plane crash victim might suffer.
Small teams of EMS members attended to each victim, applying appropriate medical attention until the victims could be transported to an ambulance. Radios were going off every few seconds as the volunteers coordinated their efforts. Everything was running smoothly. The volunteers knew exactly what they were doing.
All was not well, however, at the Town Hall. Despite being the drill’s command post, it was nearly impossible to open communication with the drill site. No one at the Town Hall had any idea what was going on; they weren’t picking up anything on their radios, and they weren’t able to establish a reliable land line with the firehouse. Though communication was something the drill meant to improve, it seemed to be failing on all counts outside the crash scene.
When the drill ended, all the volunteers reconvened at the Town Hall for a debriefing. Tensions were high at first due to the lack of communication, but the volunteers at the scene revealed they’d tried multiple times to radio the Town Hall. The communication issue wasn’t due to a lack of care or breach in protocol but a massive radio dead zone between the Town Hall and the crash site. Several people suspected it had to do with the difference in elevation between the two locations, a valuable lesson learned in case an actual emergency ever happened in that area.
“That’s the reality of living in the Adirondacks,” said Lynn Green about the dead zone.
Despite the communication issues, the drill showed improvement over last year’s drill in several respects.
According to Patty Warrington, response time went down drastically and the volunteers were much more organized. She was pleased with the teamwork between all the organizations. Fostering “multi-agency cooperation,” as she called it, was one of the key reasons she organizes drills like this.
Corey was also pleased with the event, and even with the mishaps, thought it was a valuable learning experience.
“In a real emergency, if you haven’t dealt with things like this and don’t have the practice, it makes it difficult to respond effectively,” Corey said.
Minerva and its neighbors certainly have the practice now. Should a plane ever actually crash, they’ll be more prepared.