It was just before 10 a.m. Thursday when the triennial emergency exercise at Billings Logan International Airport began.
The Air Traffic Control Tower issued this alert over the radio to trigger the exercise - "A diverting inbound passenger Boeing 727 reporting a rear lavatory fire with smoke enveloping the passenger cabin."
One by one, emergency vehicles began showing up, with the Airport's Aircraft Rescue & Firefighting Division the first on scene.
What they found was smoke coming out of a plane, and injured passengers on the ground that had already made their way out of the aircraft.
Aware that this was an exercise, the drill allowed emergency responders to put their skills to the test, but also discover areas that need improvement.
Before the exercise began, wound makeup was applied to the volunteers playing victims. Each volunteer was assigned a role that detailed their injuries and how to interact with first responders.
This exercise is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The size of the incident is based on the size of the airport. In this case, the FAA required the incident involve between 60 and 70 victims. This scenario involved 69, including some who didn't survive.
Casualties were portrayed by 170 lb. mannequins that had to be carried off the plane and some volunteers on the ground.
Firefighters opened the airplane doors to search for more victims.
Firefighters moved victims away from the plane and divided them by the severity of injuries.
Some victims were taken by bus to a staging area on 27th Street and then transported to the hospital.
This exercise also gave Yellowstone County Disaster Emergency Services the opportunity to test its new Salamander incident accountability system. The program allows emergency coordinators to track incident personelle, victims, and others involved.
The City of Billings would like to thank all of the agencies involved in making this exercise possible including United Way, Lockwood Fire Department, American Medical Response, Yellowstone County/City of Billings DES, Billings Fire Department, MET, Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Division, BIL, HAM radio operators, City of Billings Public Works, and volunteers.
Volunteer evaluators were also monitoring the exercise to improve our emergency response in the future.