Rescue crews train during realistic mock plane crash at PBIA

Local drama students played injured crash victims
Posted at 8:05 PM, Mar 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-17 14:27:11-04

If you were driving past Palm Beach International Airport on Thursday morning, it may have looked like something out of a movie.

Rescue crews from across Palm Beach County descended upon PBIA for the ultimate test: preparing for the worst.

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue simulated a Boeing 737 crashing after a bird strike while landing. The FAA requires airports to conduct these types of  emergency drills every three years.

It's vital training preparing Palm Beach County rescue crews For the unimaginable.

"The fire department can't do it alone, the airport can't do it alone so it's really a group effort," said Jeremy Perusse, airport operations manager. "There's no substitution for a live training exercise like this."

While some firefighters attacked the smoke and flames from the mock explosion, others tended to victims, which were really actors from G-Star Academy in Palm City. The students played the part of nearly 200 injured crash victims strewn about the scene. Some were lying outside the aircraft among luggage while others were still trapped inside the fuselage.

"They have to tend to the more severe victims first," said actress Alyssa Ramirez.

Firefighters practiced triage protocol by assessing who could walk. They then color coordinated each victim using ribbons, starting with green for those in the best condition.

"Green, yellow, red and then black are deceased," said Capt. Albert Borroto with the Palm Beach County Fire Department. "They know exactly who to prioritize, who are the most critical patients to get them off scene the fastest."

Victims wore stage make up to mimic burns and lacerations. They were asked to make it as real and difficult as possible for crews.

"I have an open wound on my stomach and they're taking forever to help so I'm just going to go jump on one of them and see if they helped me, and that worked," said actress Rachel Almonte.

"I had almost eight firefighters and paramedics coming up to me trying to help me," said Julia Vance, who played a victim.

Some like Haley Pritchard put paramedics to the test.

"Live it in a way so that they're prepared for stuff like that when it actually happens," she said. "I think it's super duper important that they know how to handle these kinds of traumatic situations....It's terrifying to think something like that could and will happen."

Jubilee Baquerizo played a grieving mother with third degree burns. She had a toy baby that fire fighters designated as DOA or  "dead on arrival" but Baquerizo put on an emotional scene that firefighters had to learn their way around.

"They need to know what they're getting themselves into. God forbid one of these tragic situations happens," she said.

"It brings a realism that the firefighters can experience," added Borroto.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross also trained on family assistance.

"When you have an accident like this, you'll have a bunch of family coming in wanting to know where their loved ones are," said Borroto.

The Red Cross put those skills to the test in the real world during the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting.

"We sent several vehicles and supported more than 3,000 people in shelters that evening for passengers that had nowhere to go," said Robin Nunley, executive director for the Red Cross of Palm Beach and Martin counties. "I think what's so significant about this particular incident is the importance of collaboration of all the different parties. We all do our own individual training but this is an opportunity for us to all come together and collaborate and see how all the pieces fit together and that's extremely important in respect to a real response."

Fire department and airport officials will spend the next few weeks going over video and data from the exercise to see where improvements need to be made. Then they'll send the final report to the FAA.

"This is to prepare and train for the worst and hope that we never have to put that training into action," said Borroto.

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