Volunteers critical — to disaster exercise at Springfield airport

Don.mug

An airline jet serving our area with more than 50 passengers crashed at the airport and first responders went into action. Firefighters doused flames, and medical personnel dealt with the victims’ injuries. That is until the wounded just walked away.

Such was a disaster exercise at Springfield-Branson National Airport on May 13 that saw the more than 50 volunteers from our area assist the professionals to gain experience and the airport to recertify for handling such emergencies.

The morning started at Mercy Hospital Springfield with makeup. A half-dozen people went about damaging volunteers. Some were burn victims, some had pieces of glass or cloth sticking out of their wounds and some had bloody gashes. When a makeup worker called for a victim to just have bad bruising – no one moved at first. Apparently, we wanted fake gore.

I suffered a blunt force trauma to the head with a gash and lots of blood in my hair – the makeup volunteer liked my hair as a painter likes a blank canvass. I was among several American Red Cross volunteers participating though the bulk of the victims were with the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) or Mercy volunteers. This type of exercise was a new experience for me. And I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I hadn’t already been volunteering with Red Cross.

Then it was off to the area near the airport’s industrial park and the crash site. The airliner was a mock fuselage ready to be set aflame. One of the staffers directed us to spread out around the site and warned that anyone on the near side of the fuselage might get “a little spray” on them as the fire on the far side was doused. The emergency horn blared in the distance and the exercise was under way. Two of the airport’s fire trucks headed out to our remote area. One truck positioned, opened fire with its water cannon and – no doubt while cooling the fire – drenched two volunteers.

I was passenger #24. That passenger was confused and walking with a respiratory status of 39 and irregular. In other words, I was panting and not breathing well. I needed an ambulance. At least that’s what my passenger tag had on it. Actually, I was feeling fine and enjoying the beautiful day for a disaster.

But this is serious business. The first responders handled the fire and performed triage on the victims. The greens stood around talking, the yellows (my group) waiting for an ambulance ride after the reds (most in need) were transported. And, there was a group marked as black, the dead.

Those managing the exercise as well as those participating exhibited a high degree of professionalism. I feel reassured that this sort of training takes place with an effort at achieving realism. And, as the airport staff said, thanks to all those volunteers who helped in the effort. We volunteers do make a difference.

Don Underwood is a public affairs volunteer with the American Red Cross of Southern Missouri. He lives in Republic.

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