A pretend jet, a pretend accident and pretend victims equals real training at Manchester airport

  • A fire truck from Manchester airport sprays water near an “airplane” made of two school buses covered with tarps as part of Tuesday’s Emergency Preparedness Drill at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. DAVID BROOKS photos / Monitor staff

  • A smoke machine simulates fire on an “airplane” made of two school buses covered with tarps as part of Tuesday’s Emergency Preparedness Drill at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. To the right are volunteers playing injured passengers in the triage area. DAVID BROOKS photos / Monitor staff

  • Sophia Joyal of Laconia, a UNH nursing student, shows off the “back injury” she was given by a makeup artist as part of Tuesday’s Emergency Preparedness Drill at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Some 82 volunteers pretended to be injured during a training scenario in which a plane rolled off the runway.

  • Jesse Petrois, an effects makeup artist from Connecticut, works on Lauri Cotter, a nursing student at Manchester Community College. Cotter was one of 82 volunteers playing injured passengers and crew as part of Tuesday’s Emergency Preparedness Drill at Manchester-Boston Airport in Manchester.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/18/2019 2:22:50 PM

The ugliest airplane in the history of Manchester airport was the scene of an apparent disaster Tuesday. But don’t worry – it was a carefully planned disaster.

“We prepare for this for months. Really, we’re always preparing,” said Tom Malafronte, deputy director at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and media escort for Tuesday’s massive emergency preparedness drill on Runway 06.

How massive? More than 70 agencies participated, including police, fire departments, hospitals and aviation personnel from throughout the region, and some 82 volunteers played roles of injured passengers or crew, some of them sporting professional makeup to mimic burns and injuries.

In the preparation room, Jesse Petronis, a freelance effects makeup artist from Connecticut, carefully glued a piece of debris that had “punctured” the forearm of Lauri Cotter. Where did he get this unusual skill? “I work at a haunted house,” he explained.

Cotter, like many of Tuesday’s volunteers, is a nursing student. She attends Manchester Community College and welcomed the chance to see emergency personnel in action, even if it was part of a pretend emergency. Some of the volunteers were given scripts, to make sure they accurately depicted the type of injury they were supposed to have.

Airports like Manchester are required to do on-field emergency drills like this every three years, holding “tabletop” exercises every year in between.

Tuesday’s scenario involved a pretend Airbus 220, a 110-seat regional aircraft, from a pretend airline called Quest.

The fake airplane was made from two school buses, placed end to end and wrapped in black tarps, with a large fake tail attached and a smoke machine simulating fire.

“School buses are a good stand-in,” Malafronte said. “In terms of tight quarters, it simulates a regional jet fairly well.”

Why not use one of the real airplanes at the airport? Because no airline wants to participate, dreading the thought of online photos showing their brand associated with screaming, injured people – even if they’re only pretending to be injured.

The emergency scenario was complicated. It says the plane was landing when “a passenger inadvertently dispenses a cartridge of pepper spray within their carry-on bag” which causes the crew to become incapacitated. Pilots manage to execute a “fair landing” but touched down in the wrong place and ended up coming to a very sudden stop when running onto the Engineered Materials Arrestor Bed at the end of the runway – basically a large field of concrete sheets that crumble under the weight of a plane, halting its roll.

At that point, “fuel leaking from beneath the wings” comes in contact with the hot brakes, “causing a fire on the sides of the aircraft,” says the scenario, which ends with this blunt statement: “Assume injuries.”

The victims were taken to the plane by 9 a.m., and the emergency officially started at 9:15 with a “this is just a drill” announcement over the radio. The airports’ two huge fire trucks soon arrived on the scene, followed by other emergency personnel.

A mass-casualty operation was soon set up, including three colored tarps to help categorize patients during triage: Green for minor injuries, yellow for injuries that can wait a little while for treatment, red for those in immediate need. No black tarp for deceased victims was visible, but the scenario did talk about the possibility of establishing an on-site morgue to hold bodies.

Malafronte said problems discovered in past drills have often involved less dramatic items, such as communication protocols.

“When you have that many units together you can’t make a (radio) call to ‘operations’, because that’s all of us,” he said.

During Tuesday’s drill, evaluators prowled the area making notes on clipboards. Some were from other airports, some from other emergency services, some from the city. The disaster scene lasted several hours, with many “patients” taken to local hospitals so they could practice the arrival of many emergency cases at one time. Following that, a large debriefing was held with officials from most of the agencies involved – so many that the hearing couldn’t fit into the usual conference room on the terminal’s third floor – with input from the evaluators.

Manchester airport has never had a mass-casualty accident involving a passenger plane and hopefully never will. But if it does happen, everybody should be trained to respond.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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