Thursday, September 22, 2011

Helicopter crash simulation at airport training facility

Emergency responders from nearly every agency in Helena were at the Airport Training Center Thursday, simulating a disaster. Beartooth NBC’s Ryan Whalen reports, when a real disaster strikes they all need to work together.

Here's the situation. A Montana National Guard helicopter's gone down with more than twenty people on it. Some are dead, others injured and the aircraft's gone up in flames.

"It's very, very unusual that there's an aircraft where there's a fire,” says Helena Regional Airport Director Ron Mercer. When such an extraordinary disaster happens, multiple agencies will respond. On this day many of them are practicing that scenario. "About 11 different agencies here combined, working together and training so that if an accident happens, you do what you're trained to do when there's an accident, so we have to continue that training,” Mercer.

From the airport to the military, from law enforcement to fire – these agencies are training all the time.

"We train every month, just like the city and others do, but getting everybody together is difficult,” says Mercer.

"Everybody has their little area of specialization that they go on, but when you take that and you put it into an exercise like this or an emergency, you've got to make those rough edges fit,” says Helena Fire Department Chief Steve Larson.

Everyone working well together is vital to proceeding efficiently and safely.

"It's not only cooperation but it's coordination and having that coordination both through, the hands on stuff on the ground but also through the radio communication,” says Chief Larson. When disaster strikes responders have to be ready for everything thrown at them. "We have to train for disasters like this so that unfortunately when they do occur, and they do occur in our community, that we're prepared and we know how to handle it the best we can,” says Chief Larson.

The agencies even held a mock press conference Thursday with media to get a feel for what kind of questions might be asked of them and who to defer to for answers.

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