Disaster Drill Trains First Responders For Commercial Plane Crash

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- Wednesday, dozens of first responders tested skills they hope they never have to use. At the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, firefighters, police and ambulance workers took part in a disaster drill with the scenario being the crash of a major commercial flight.

Airport officials say there are two main reasons for the drill. The FAA requires drills every three years for airports to receive commercial certification and to make sure the community is ready to spring into action if the worst happens.

First the call came in - a commercial airliner had crashed into a building and both were on fire. Firefighters had to fight the flames while nearby dozens of volunteers portrayed injured passengers with severe burns and severed limbs calling out desperately for medical attention.

Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said, "We've made up the injuries so they'll have the opportunity to go look at the injury, and anticipate what the injury might be in this type of event. Treat that injury. Physically look at it. Say 'This is what I would do' and then do it."

It was only an exercise, but with more than 100 commercial, private and military flights taking off and landing each day, officials at the Gulfport Biloxi International Airport say they want to be sure everyone is capable of responding effectively to a real crash.

"It could happen at any time," said Tommy Turfitt, Airport Operations Supervisor. "It's one of the major aspects of the business we're in which is aviation. We want to be prepared as best as possible. "

Ambulance workers, firefighters and police got the chance to practice the training they've received to deal with large scale emergencies and see what role each must play in order to save lives.

"Our triage system is such that when we go out there and deal with a large number of people, you have to do it quickly, you have to do it precisely, and you have to do it in a certain manner," said Chief Sullivan. "Physically coming out here and doing it will help them remember those steps that they have to go through."

Airport officials say evaluators were on hand at the drill to review both the strengths and weaknesses of the response.