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Mock plane crash puts emergency responders to the test

By Lou Hillman, lhillman@wkbt.com
Published On: Jun 20 2012 09:00:03 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 20 2012 09:26:19 PM CDT

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- It's a worst-case scenario that's never happened at the La Crosse Airport and hopefully never does.

However, an airplane crash on the runway is something emergency responders say they need to be prepared for. That's why on Wednesday several agencies participated in a huge mock disaster drill on one of the airport's runways.

The mock emergency alert went out shortly after 5 p.m.

"Alert 3. Canadian regional jet has crash landed on runway 13," the alert stated.

The airport's own firefighters were first on scene. Within minutes, a unit from the La Crosse Fire Department arrived as back-up. It was the first of many waves of emergency responders that were called in to help.

Interim airport manager Clint Torp says a disaster of that magnitude requires help from so many different agencies.

"Actually physically getting everybody out here, practicing the communications, and practicing the use of apparatuses is really invaluable to ensure that in a real life situation they're the best trained as they can be," said Torp.

The disaster training is required every 3 years by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"These kind of accidents involving aircraft are extremely rare so it's important that we're constantly training on how to deal with these instances just in case," said Torp.

For the first time, the training gave firefighters a chance to practice on a model of an actual airplane. Firefighters say that helps make the training much more realistic.

"This isn't going to be like going in a house to rescue somebody or a car where they're right there," said Division Chief Jeff Murphy, with the La Crosse Fire Department.

"It's a lot more restrictive as far as the space goes," he added, explaining the challenges of fighting a fire inside an airplane.

The model provided by a Minnesota company even comes equipped with smoke and sound effects.

"We have to be prepared and there are a lot of disciplines like that where we have to have enough knowledge so that we can get it right when it does happen," said Murphy.

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