Wednesday, December 19, 2012

OREGON: Helicopter crash prompts special training at Sheridan FD

It’s not often that local firefighters get dispatched on a downed aircraft, but that’s what happened earlier this month.

After responding to the Cherry Hill helicopter crash site and providing medical care to the injured pilot, Deputy Chief Bill Alguire began preparing for fire drill the following evening. The topic of choice: Emergency response to calls involving aircraft.

The two-hour presentation included a review of the crash on Nov. 27, training video clips from the Federal Aviation Administration and even a remote controlled helicopter. Alguire, who has two decades of experience as an air ambulance medic, taught the class.

Helicopters are just one type of aircraft used in the area. They spray crops, load Christmas trees, evacuate injured patients, haul cargo and complete training missions for the military.

Experimental aircraft, such as the RV6 that recently crashed near Scio, and light sport aircraft (ultralights) are common as well as certificated fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.  In rural areas, private airstrips abound.

Gone are the years when airplanes were constructed of fabric, metal and wood. Now composite structures made of glass or carbon fibers held together by epoxy resin are common. The new materials pose new risks for rescuers.

Technology has also changed. When George and Peggy Morgan flew aircraft off their airstrip in Ballston and Clyde Evers flew from his private strip east of Harmony Road, airplanes were not equipped with ballistic parachute systems or airbags.

Now when emergency personnel respond on a call for a downed aircraft, they must consider not only fire and explosive hazards, but dangers posed by pressure vessels, mechanical hazards and toxic substances. All of these things including cargos of hazardous materials such as herbicides, pesticides and fungicides can pose health and safety risks, explained Alguire.

Emergency responders must also take into consideration access to the site. Unlike the recent incident where the helicopter crashed onto a road, sites are frequently difficult to access. Rescuers may have to pack equipment and supplies through what may be inhospitable terrain. As a result, manpower is taxed, Alguire said.

Other things besides rescuer safety must also be taken into consideration. At a crash site, emergency responders must also follow rules and regulations handed down by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Access to the area must be limited to preserve evidence for the investigation. Anything moved or changed must be documented. “You’ve got to treat it like a crime scene,” said Alguire. “It becomes very time intensive.”

If a bystander witnesses an aircraft crash, they should resist the urge to rush in and set up a safety perimeter. “Make sure other bystanders don’t go in there,” Alguire said. The same hazards that could injure or kill emergency responders could pose health and safety risks for a bystander.


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