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Disaster drill helps prepare for airplane crash in Monett

Monday, October 11, 2010

A simulation of the crash of a small passenger plane was held at the Monett Municipal Airport on Saturday. Barry-Lawrence Ambulance crews assessed victims while firefighters dosed the flaming "plane" at rear left while other firemen prepared to rush in at right. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Seventeen emergency response agencies and local businesses participated in a disaster drill at the Monett Municipal Airport on Saturday. In the first large scale enactment of its kind here, the crash of a small passenger plane was simulated, complete with casualties.

At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday a small passenger bus donated by Bowling Salvage was sitting in the grass and began to smoke. Soon the bus was roiling in billowing smoke. To the west on the ground, a number of "injured" passengers were lying, some crying out in pain, calling for help.

Monett City Fire Department crews with several pumper trucks arrived on the scene. Firemen quickly broke out foam spraying equipment and began covering both the bus and the runway. According to Airport Superintendent Howard Frazier, the foam blankets the fumes from the jet fuel to keep them from igniting.

Ambulance crews began pulling onto the scene at the same time firefighters from Pierce City and the Monett Rural Fire Association arrived and circulated among the injured. Some had vivid cosmetic "burns" with skin flaps and charred tissue, created by disaster training specialists Mae and Mike Gooch, of Monett.

By 11:15 a.m., all of the victims had been transported to Cox Monett Hospital. By 11:30 a.m., the exercise itself concluded. Participants headed to the Monett Justice Center for debriefing in a "hot wash" session over a pizza lunch provided by the Monett emergency management team.

David Compton, emergency management director for Barry County, viewed the exercise from an observation post with Bonnie Witt-Schulte, Monett emergency management coordinator. Compton led each of the team leaders through a discussion of how the different responses went.

"Exercises by their nature are designed to create issues to resolve," Compton said. "Every exercise has its fail points. Our job is to find the root cause and resolve it."

Karen Brown, the dispatch supervisor for the Monett Police Department, quickly identified the most critical point of the day. The Barry County 911 Center did not alert Monett of the situation until the second 911 call was made three minutes after the first call. The county service also never patched Monett through to the actual caller to provide on-scene details.

Witt-Schulte observed that in a real emergency, there would likely have been multiple calls in the first minute, pressing for a response. Brown noted that a lot can be done in the first three minutes of a call. Compton said he would explore what contributed to the delay.

Brown said her dispatching crew responded well to the demands of activating a response. The sudden volume of radio traffic offered its own problems, particularly from individual rural firefighters calling in to confirm their response. Having each truck call in rather than each firefighter might be a more practical response.

Firefighter Shane Anderson, the department's chief training officer who directed the firefighter's response, said a better staging area was needed. Had there been a fuel tank explosion, possibly three units that werelocated too close to the fire would have been lost. The designation of a hot zone and a safety officer would also have helped keep rescuers from carrying victims off too close to the fire itself.

Captain Dewayne Irwin said the firemen ran out of foam and water after using the initial supplies on their trucks. They hooked up the back-up supplies and were able to quickly continue.

Monett Police Chief Tim Schweder said his officers did not establish a perimeter as they would have done in a real disaster. The first goal in a response, Schweder said, is to accurately identify where the crash occurred, which would more than likely be in a remote field at night, then to direct other responders in. If there were casualties, Schweder said the site becomes a crime scene.

Compton discussed the need to have a public information officer (PIO) in a real event. The PIO would gather reports, vet their accuracy and issue one statement to avoid multiple messages given to the public. The Red Cross would also have been called in and would have established a family reunification center.

According to Compton, Cox-Monett Hospital works with the Cassville, Aurora and Neosho hospitals in an emergency response network. In case of a disaster with many victims, resources are available to go to a Monett church and establish an 80-bed alternate site.

Compton and Witt-Schulte commended all the exercise participants for their work. Teenage volunteers, including several from the Monett Fire Department Cadets, were also thanked their efforts as victims.

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