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Emergency services practice crisis management during airfield mass casualty drill

2 May 2002 | Cpl. M. Trent Lowry

High-speed aerial acrobatics and poor communication could have led to tragedy as an AV-8B Harrier and a biplane impacted April 23 at the Yuma Air Show, or so the story goes.

The mid-air collision would have led to at least four dead and potentially a minimum of fifty wounded at the crowded air show  had the event actually occurred.

Instead, rescue crews from the air station and the Yuma community cooperated to perform a mass casualty drill, which is a dry run of how they would react to an accident on the flightline.

Marines from Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting "extinguished" the Harrier fire, simulated by an F-4 Phantom shell, and helped to search for dead and wounded, played by station Marines and sailors.

"Knowing that there was fire around the aircraft and that people were in the way, we were worried about finding a way to get close enough to put out the fire," said Cpl. Marco Rios, crash fire rescueman.

The provost marshal's office, Red Cross, NMCRS, station fire department, branch medical clinic and public affairs office each mobilized to perform the tasks they would be responsible for in case of an actual emergency.

Rural Metro fire fighters arrived to support the station fire department, and representatives from Yuma Regional Medical Center observed the drill and accepted the "wounded" for emergency treatment at the medical center.

A registered nurse with YRMC, LuAnn Zieba,  said this was the first time she has observed the air station side of the mass casualty drill, though she has participated in past years' drills from a post at the medical center.

"It's good to get that understanding of what happens at the accident site," said Zieba, who is also YRMC's educator for emergency services.

Though the various agencies were aware that the drill was planned, one objective of the drill was to gauge the reaction time of the offices, to see how long emergency services could be expected on-site in the event of a real emergency.

"We had a good response time   we were at the crash site in under two minutes, putting water on the fire," said Gunnery Sgt. Larry Hollingsworth, a section leader with ARFF and the on-scene commander.

In addition to the response time and rescue efforts, another goal of the drill was to measure how well the various agencies communicated and cooperated with each other.

"They learned a lot from working with the other services," Hollingsworth said of the ARFF Marines. "The city came in to support the station, and it was great support."

"We have to be collaborative to be successful in saving lives," said Zieba, who will take her observations back to YRMC and pass them on to her peers at the medical center. "We cannot work in isolation or we won't be of value. It's a good thing for the service and the community, as it enhances communication."

The Marines took mental notes while they were performing their duties, learning what they could about what went well and what needed work.

"This was a lot more organized than last year," Rios said. "For the new Marines from school, this drill is perfect for them. We've been telling them that in all reality this is what we will have to do. We prepare them not to freak out, because we'll need every one of them."

The Marines and other support services completed the task quickly, and they believe that they are ready for the real deal, though they hope it doesn't happen.

"We can handle any job that comes up," Hollingsworth said. "I'm very confident in all their abilities."

While ARFF and the other emergency services were thankfully not needed at the 40th Annual Yuma Air Show Saturday, it should be reassuring that they are prepared for any emergency that may occur, including those on the airfield.

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Marine Corps Air Station Yuma