About 200 train for the worst at BWI emergency exercise Saturday

Agencies across the area combined on Saturday morning during an aircraft disaster training exercise, held at BWI to simulate a catastrophic event. The event is designed help first responders execute, evaluate, and develop better methods to similar senarios. (Matt Cole / Capital Gazette)

Roughly 100 surviving "victims" arrived at the airport at 6 a.m., while the "deceased" — 30 mannequins — came in the back of a pickup.

A group of American Red Cross volunteers played a critical role in a training exercise Saturday morning for the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Fire and Rescue Department. Every three years, the Federal Aviation Administration requires airport personnel and first responders to conduct a drill for disasters.


"This is a full-scale exercise to test our response to an aircraft emergency," said BWI Fire Chief Victor Ferreira.

While the airport fire department is prepared to respond to such emergencies, it would rely on mutual aid from other agencies if there were to be an incident involving mass casualties, he said. The exercise helps first responders from the different agencies work together to prepare for a large-scale disaster.

Saturday's practice was designed to test how well the group triaged victims and transported them, and how well BWI firefighters worked with their mutual-aid partners, Ferreira said.

The scenario for this year's simulation was a DC-10 colliding with a fuel truck on the runway during landing.

About four pounds of C-4 explosives set off by members of the state fire marshal's bomb squad created a large boom that would be heard and felt in such a collision. Flames burst out in several areas around the old aircraft used for training exercises, while the volunteers posing as victims cried for help.

Fire equipment rolled into the drill area, an old gravel parking on the south side of the airport, with their lights and sirens activated and parked in a circle around the plane. Several firefighters in silver protective gear to protect against extreme heat began inspecting the plane. Other firefighters in standard turnout gear worked to extinguish the flames near the plane.

A long white trailer for the BWI special operations support unit pulled up to the scene, and personnel began unfurling different-colored tarps to place patients during triage. A red tarp was reserved for patients with the most severe injuries, yellow for less serious and green for "the walking wounded."

Several firefighters wheeled a metal stairwell to the wing of the plane, where they climbed up with tools to try to get inside. Meanwhile, additional units began arriving from other agencies, including officers from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who patrol the airport, and fire departments from Anne Arundel and Howard counties.


Airport spokesman Jonathan Dean scrolled though alerts he received on his phone, alerting him and other staff of the collision, just as would happen in a real disaster. One message announced that all other airport runways were closed.

A red school bus carrying about a dozen Baltimore County firefighters pulled up. The group, wearing neon yellow coats and helmets filed out of the bus, broke into groups of four to help carry victims on canvas stretchers.

Several victims were being loaded into ambulances that waited at the periphery of the parking lot. Beyond the action, airplanes continued to land and take off as usual.

As the roughly 200 personnel worked to secure the scene and tend to victims, FAA officials with clipboards watched the action. A full review will be completed after the training to determine any weaknesses in the response.

The exercise takes about a year to plan, said Theodore Valmas, the emergency management coordinator at Maryland Aviation Administration.

Details like the explosion and bloodied victims help prepare the agencies. "It makes it more realistic," he said.


The volunteer "victims" arrived early to begin preparing for their roles.

Emma Klein, 56, of Salisbury left home at 3 a.m. for the exercise. Her designated injury was a leg was severed at the knee, and a bloody stump was all that was supposed to show. Next to her was a paper cup full of fake blood, which was to be drizzled across her body.

Christine McBride, 63, of Howard County, was made up to show injuries that included a swollen eye and facial cuts. She arrived at 6 a.m. to have her face transformed.

"It will be interesting," she said before the exercise. "I'm flying out at the end of the week, so I will probably be traumatized."