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First responders conduct disaster training exercise at Pocatello airport

POCATELLO — Roughly a dozen Idaho State University students lay strewn about along the side of a Pocatello Regional Airport runway on Tuesday.

One of the students circled a bus carrying several other students shouting, “where’s my baby.”

The students were actors, playing the roles of injured passengers at the scene of an airplane crash — the bus was playing the role of the downed airplane.

“The FAA requires commercial air service airports to do these drills every three years, so that’s what took place today,” said Alan Evans, the airport manager.

Pocatello airport disaster exercise
An ISU student playing the role of a distraught parent yells at responders. | Kalama Hines,

The simulation involved members of the Pocatello Fire Department, Pocatello Police Department, Power County Sheriff’s Office, Idaho State Police, Portneuf Medical Center and the airport itself. For around an hour, the actors were attended to by EMS and firefighters, and treated for simulated injuries. One of the students was transported to Portneuf by Life Flight.

Kim Stouse, Community Risk Reduction Specialist for the Pocatello Fire Department, said all the agencies involved conduct similar training in their own settings. But this allows each to come together and test run their abilities to work together.

“This is a way to bring all your partners together and really go through a real-life situation,” she said. “And we have people who are not involved in the exercise here evaluating the situation so that they too can give independent feedback as to what went well and what we could change.”

Pocatello airport disaster exercise
Pocatello firefighters and EMS perform triage. | Kalama Hines,

The exercise took about an hour.

As Stouse explained, the response unfolded the way it would in a real-life incident. She broke down the timeline, saying that in the case of an aircraft engine fire — the basis of Tuesday’s simulation — information like the plane’s tail number, number of people onboard and amount of fuel would be relayed by the airport control tower to 911.

The airport fire station would respond with a truck containing 1,200 gallons of water and 210 gallons of fire retardant foam. Additional engines, EMS and other responders would follow from outside stations.

“They immediately start fire suppressions operations first,” she said. “Once they’re able to get the fire under control, they move into triaging the injured until additional support can get here.”

All officials involved believed Tuesday’s exercise to have been a success. Something that both Evans and Pocatello Fire Chief Ryan O’Hearn noted, as they managed the incident from the control center set up at the airport fire station, was the great communication between the agencies that don’t often work together.

“I thought we communicated very well,” O’Hearn said. “One of the primary objectives of our drill this year was to test our communications abilities — to operate with other agencies and other personnel, not just the normal cast of players.”

Pocatello airport disaster exercise
The first responding firefighter provides updated information as other responders arrive at the scene. | Kalama Hines,

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