Four to five minutes is all it took for emergency crews to arrive at the Fort Smith airport in response to a plane crash last week - a simulated plane crash, that is.
Every four years, airports across Canada are required by Transport Canada to simulate a crash in order to test the response of emergency crews, and last Wednesday morning was Fort Smith’s turn.
“It’s not a pass or fail thing; it’s a training exercise where we identify what went well and what we need to work on,” Ed Kokoszka, manager at the Fort Smith airport, told The Journal. “The rationale behind it is to test the plan, to ensure that our emergency plans are working and to identify any pluses that we have, things that are working well, as well as identifying any issues that we may need to address or that should be improved.”
As crews arrived on-site at the simulated emergency, they were confronted with a fire, a half a dozen artificially-injured survivors to attend to and a plane to search.
“For this exercise we had the honour of having a real aircraft, which adds a real life element to it,” Kokoszka said. “We were fortunate that the fire department and ambulance staff were able to enter the aircraft just as they would in a real situation, so it was a real bonus for us as far as training and having a realistic element.”
While many emergency crew members have done similar exercises before, some new recruits to the RCMP, hospital and volunteer fire department were experiencing it for the first time.
Crews are told the date of the simulation ahead of time, but are not told the time or what to expect when they arrive. The goal is to make the simulation “as real as possible, but as safe as possible,” which means informing the community so as to not raise unnecessary concern, Kokoszka explained.
Overall, the exercise went well for crews, he said. Small issues such as radio communication surfaced, but those were to be expected.
“A few issues, communications, radios, things like that – we have trouble with that kind of thing quite often,” Kokoszka said. “It’s the usual things; sometime batteries die at inopportune times, sometimes people get on the wrong channel, but generally it went well.”
Crews and airport staff will meet at a later date to discuss reports from the plane crash simulation and make adjustments to the response action plan, Kokoszka said.
“We’re very lucky in that air travel is by far the safest means of transportation, and so these things are rare, but we want to have a plan should it happen,” he said.