Plane crash drill helps galvanize emergency response efforts

Bangor International Airport firefighters help a victim of a mock air disaster to an awaiting ambulance as females wearing fake ears roam the area acting as aggressive dogs on Saturday at the Bangor Internatinal Airport.
Bangor International Airport firefighters help a victim of a mock air disaster to an awaiting ambulance as females wearing fake ears roam the area acting as aggressive dogs on Saturday at the Bangor Internatinal Airport.
Posted May 07, 2011, at 4:20 p.m.
Last modified May 08, 2011, at 2:12 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The walking wounded in a mock plane crash at Bangor International Airport on Saturday morning got their cuts and bruises from a team of makeup artists led by local EMS instructor Don Wade.

Wade, a retired military man who also is an emergency medical technician in Orrington, started doing moulage — applying fake wounds to make victims to appear to have cuts, burns, broken bones and other injuries — decades ago while still an active airman.

On Saturday he stood in front of two large containers that looked like massive fishing tackle boxes filled with all sorts of fake blood, rubber wounds, makeup, waxes and other items needed to simulate injuries.

“If it looks realistic, people get into it more,” he said after applying a fake arm that was missing its hand to Newburgh EMT Amanda Lane, who volunteered to be a plane crash victim.

The 100 or so volunteer actors were part of a BIA disaster exercise drill that is held every three years and mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration to test emergency response procedures at BIA.

In the drill scenario, a military transport carrying civilians had an in-flight emergency and then crashed and burned at the end of the airport.

“It’s all about testing interagency responses,” Assistant Bangor Fire Chief Vance Tripp, a coordinator of the exercise, said Saturday.

Tripp, who has helped to organize the staged disaster for the last decade, said that when emergency crews practice together they learn what works and what needs work.

“It identifies your troubled areas and you realize where you need training,” he said. “When everybody is familiar with their jobs, it makes getting the job done easier.”

The drill set in motion the airport’s disaster plan, which draws on area firefighters, ambulance crews, police and other law enforcement, as well as military personnel from the Maine Air National Guard to respond.

Each of the crash victims wore color-coded tags around their necks to show the degree of injury. The cards were printed with the victim’s fake name and age, the type of injury and any known medical history.

Once at the crash scene, the victims played out a scenario based on their individual cards.

A fire was started at around 9 a.m. Saturday and signaled the “airplane crash” and the start of the exercise. Victims and luggage could be seen scattered across the tarmac with an old L-1011 fuselage in the background, and someone could be heard yelling, “Where is the help? Where is the help?”

Emergency crews arrived at the scene quickly, and the victims were triaged and sent to area hospitals for “treatment” of their wounds. Eastern Maine Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital, Acadia, Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center and Penobscot Community Health Care participated.

The color of the information cards determined how much time volunteers got with Wade.

Those who wore black died in the crash, and needed a lot of work by Wade or one of his two helpers, Dan Bahr and Rick Doughty, to ensure they looked the part.

A red card indicated critical condition, and yellow cards were superficial wounds.

Lane wore red. She was in shock after her hand was severed in the plane crash and needed immediate medical care to survive, according to her card.

She said that as an EMT she sees a lot of injured people and wanted to know what it was like to be on the receiving end of emergency medical care.  

“You learn from seeing both sides,” said Lane.

During the makeup time, Wade added a couple of drops of blood to Lane’s head wound and blotted them so she appeared to have road rash, and her transformation was complete.

Eleven of his EMS students volunteered to participate in the mock disaster because “I can stand up and lecture, but I’d rather do hands-on,” Wade said. “This is really good for them because they are going into the medical field.”

Another 50 or 60 of the “injured” were volunteers from Penobscot Job Corps.

Wade, who did moulage for an Ellsworth mock accident last week and will do one in Millinocket next week, said he has done the makeup for the BIA disaster drill for so long that he can’t even remember the first time.

The fake wounds add a little realism to disaster drills. and by using them, “patient care changes completely” for the better, Wade said.

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