It was a mock scene not anyone — paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement or average citizen — would want to see in real life.
The mock scene is a Delta CFJ 200 full of passengers with 4,000 pounds of fuel coming in for an emergency landing at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. Due to smoke, the pilot makes a hard landing. The right main gear tires blow out and the aircraft leaves the runway. The other landing gear also collapses and the aircraft comes to a stop alongside the runway with smoke and fire coming from the craft.
The pilots evacuate the aircraft through the flight deck window. A passenger has set fire to the lavatory and attacked the flight attendant. All passengers suffer from smoke inhalation. The flight attendant has a head injury and has been stabbed.
Time is 5:03 p.m. Monday. Sirens and lights are coming from every direction. Brainerd Police and the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office secure the main entrance of the airport, the perimeter fences and the scene exit gate by the DNR Tanker Base.
Brainerd Fire Department trucks and North Memorial ambulances travel down the runway to the airport’s fire truck that is already on scene of the crash.
Upon arrival firefighters quickly worked on extinguishing the fire, while at the same time rescuing the victims inside the jet. The paramedics race to treat the many victims who were thrown from the jet, lying in the open brown field next to the runway.
In the end, seven are dead, 21 injured.
In all close to 100 people from the Brainerd airport, Brainerd fire and police, North Ambulance, Airline staff, sheriff’s office, Crow Wing County Emergency Management, Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, Airmotive Enterprises, American Red Cross and Civil Air Patrol took part in the training drill.
The drill was created to look like a real crash by using a fire simulator training airplane.
Jerry Huberty and Wade Boyat of ARFF Specialists of Hermantown travel throughout the Midwest with the fire simulator to help communities train for airplane fire disasters. Huberty said the simulator was built as close as possible to resemble a real airplane crash. The crash included adult and infant mannequins.
“The mock drill was an excellent way to test the 800 Mhz radio system,” Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said. “This was a coordinated effort between all the emergency, law enforcement entities. This worked well for our first actual test. Not only did we test the new radios, but we also worked on fire fighting and emergency skills.
“If this was a real event we would have called in mutual aid from area fire departments.”
The new radio system uses digital technology and allows police, fire and emergency personnel to communicate on any number of channels across the area, state, region and even the country. Cass County is already using the new system and Crow Wing County will start using the 800-megahertz system on Monday, which includes the Brainerd Fire Department.
“This (training) has opened our eyes with using the new radio system,” Brainerd Police Deputy Chief Mike Bestul said. “This is a good learning tool, but we still have a way to go. Every situation is unique and there will be some challenges. But the drill went well and all the entities worked together to learn how the radio works that will help us be more proficient.”
Dave Cox, Brainerd Battalion Chief who was in charge of the drill operation, said the drill went well with it being their first time using the new digital radios. The airplane simulator also helped the drill seem more real, said Cox, which in return helped with getting the emergency responders adrenaline going.
Matt Cordes, a Brainerd firefighter and North Memorial supervisor, said the new radios made it easier for him to communicate with the paramedics, firefighters and everyone involved in the drill. Cordes said training with all the entities involved is important so every department knows what the other department is doing.
“We all work well together,” said Cordes.
Cordes said the new radios make communication easier and better and it also will improve patient care. Cordes said when he is in the helicopter in Fargo, N.D., for instance, and he gets a call to go to another city to pick up a patient, he can go straight there. He said before he would have had to land the helicopter first before traveling to the next call.
Mike Arnold, training officer at the airport with the firefighting maintenance department, agreed with the others that the drill was a great opportunity to see how all the agencies work together and a great chance to work on using the new radios.
Brian Pisarek, Aitkin Fire Chief and president of the Cuyuna Range Firefighters Association, was on scene to observe the training. Pisarek said Aitkin County is not ready for the 800 Mhz radio yet, but they will be.
“We’re learning a lot from Crow Wing County,” said Pisarek.