Emergency workers from Moffat and Routt counties practiced their lifesaving skills Sunday by handling a simulated airplane crash that included a hazardous material "spill" into the Yampa River.
"We just have to make sure as a response community that we're ready," said Bryan Rickman, chief of the West Routt Fire District.
Approximately 200 emergency responders including medical specialists, firefighters, search and rescue personnel and law officers, as well as civilian volunteers, converged at 8 a.m. at the fire station in Hayden to be filled in on the details of the exercise.
At 9:20 a.m., a call was announced over the radio that a BAE 146 jet airplane crashed south of Hayden, and the exercise started.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport fire personnel, driving special aircraft firefighting trucks, were accompanied by many other crews as they responded to the call. They went to the Hayden fire training facility where the burn house was on fire. Volunteer victims with lifelike injuries were waiting to be helped and transported.
As the planned drama unfolded, the crash triggered the mass casualty plan in Routt County. The mock victims were initially treated and then transported to hospitals in Craig and Steamboat. The exercise also triggered a contingency plan for a hazardous material spill in Routt County. Hazardous materials crews practiced their spill procedures which included treating and quarantining contaminated victims.
Clyde Andersen, emergency manager for Moffat County, said the exercise was an opportunity to bring all emergency response crews in the area together to learn how to work with each other in a disaster situation.
"We're preparing ourselves for any serious incidents," he said.
Also on hand at the exercise were representatives of United Express, Northwest and American airlines who observed and participated in the event.
"We're here more for a learning experience," said Laura Ragan, station manager of United Express. Ragan had a crew of 13 United Express employees on hand at the exercise.
"It's beneficial for us to see how all the agencies would come together and handle an emergency situation," she said.
For the medical staff at Routt Memorial Hospital, the exercise was an opportunity to practice for a disaster situation as well. Volunteer victims who were transported to the hospital were viewed and treated as actual patients.
"This is an important process for us to go through," said Dr. David Cionni, emergency physician and director of the Routt County emergency medical system. "It's a test for our preparedness."
The hospital called in all of its resources to treat victims who had mock injuries ranging from minor bumps and bruises to serious internal problems.
At the beginning of the day, volunteers were given a list of symptoms including breathing quality, pulse and neurological status. Makeup also was used to change the skin color and give the appearance of an injury.
"It takes a lot of people to pull one of these off," Chuck Vale, emergency manager of Routt County, said of the disaster drill.
He estimated there were 170 people who volunteered for the exercise.
The training exercise is part of an on-going emergency preparedness plan shared by Northwest Colorado governments. Federal law requires the special training for airports and airport firefighting personnel.