Medford airport drill gives teams practice

Nurse Nancy Miles of Medford portrayed one of the victims during the drill. Mail Tribune / Jim CravenJim Craven

Emergency crews from across Jackson County rushed to the Medford airport Thursday morning to practice what they would do if a commercial plane skidded off a runway and hit a hangar.

The emergency drill — with an old bus standing in for a Dash-400 passenger plane and Civil Air Patrol and Medical Reserve Corps volunteers posing as passengers and crew, in this case — is required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

As part of the airport's federal certification to serve commercial passenger planes, it must put its emergency plans to the test in a live drill every three years, said Kim Stearns, the airport's public information officer.

The training tests response times and communication while helping officials plan access and staging areas, she said.

"It's valuable training," Stearns said. "We've never had an incident like this, but we've had some close calls."

In Thursday's training scenario, a plane carrying 40 passengers en route from Medford to Portland experiences engine trouble and has to turn back to the Medford airport. Upon landing, it skids into a Civil Air Patrol hangar and catches fire. Nine people — some represented by mannequins and a few played by volunteers — are killed. Others suffer a variety of burns and traumatic injuries, represented by realistic theater-style makeup.

The airport's fire department was first on the scene with its $650,000 Rosenbauer Panther, a six-wheeled vehicle bristling with nozzles that can be controlled by one firefighter. Next to arrive was a heavy rescue truck from Medford's Table Rock fire station with Capt. Wayne Painter at the helm.

"It's a good experience," he said. "We can see how labor intensive it is. It takes a lot of manpower and the chaos makes it real. There's so many things to do in such a short time."

Nancy Miles, a nurse who serves in the county's Medical Reserve Corps and volunteered to play a passenger in Thursday's exercise, expected first responders to move even faster.

Her character was one of the first sent to hospitals, so, smeared with fake blood and wearing a tag that indicated her level of injury, she paused to talk with media once her role was finished.

"I was making judgments based on my background," Miles said. "I was disappointed. I thought triage would be faster."

She praised emergency medical crews who kept her from wandering in a panicked search for her imaginary husband, but said they should have worked faster to keep the first passengers off the plane from going into shock while they carried out critically injured patients.

Hospitals in the Rogue Valley and the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland also participated in the drill, moving files representing patients through treatment steps.

Stearns said the agencies that participated in the drill will re-evaluate their work in the coming weeks, looking for ways to improve preparedness.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail

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