RFD trains at airportPublished 6:03am Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Motorists traveling along Alabama 243 last week near the Russellville Municipal Airport might have been alarmed when seeing fire trucks and smoke at the end of the runway, but the commotion wasn’t what people might have thought.
Members of the Russellville Fire Department were taking part in annual training that ensures rescue personnel know what to do in the event of an airplane-related emergency.
Fire Chief Joe Mansell said they try to make the training as real as possible so it feels like an actual emergency situation.
“We give the guys a scenario where a small plane is coming from Mississippi en route to Birmingham but has engine trouble and has to make an emergency landing,” Mansell said. “I make a call to 911 like I’m a witness that has just seen a plane circling the Russellville airport that looks like it’s in trouble. I then call back a second time and say I saw the plane go down and then saw a fireball and a cloud of smoke.”
Mansell said from that point forward, he listens over the radio to see if the firemen are going through the right procedures for an aircraft emergency.
“They have to ‘call’ the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure they close the airway around the airport so no other planes land there during an emergency situation,” Mansell said. “Then, once they get to the airport, we make sure they know how to get onto the runway, make sure they turn on their lights to alert any other planes that emergency personnel are on the runway and not to land, and make sure they are asking the right questions and following the right steps.”
To simulate a burning plane, the Russellville Airport placed a small plane at the end of the runway and the fire department rigged up a smoke machine.
Mansell said each shift took turns going through the proper procedures and he had all the men drive the emergency truck that can spray water while it’s still driving.
“We just really want them to be familiar with the situation in case they are ever involved in anything like this,” Mansell said. “Now is the time for them to make mistakes and correct it so they can know exactly what to do if the situation was real.”
Airport manager Harry Mattox said he was more than glad to participate in the fire department’s training because it’s beneficial to the airport for the local emergency personnel to be familiar with what to do if a plane were to ever crash there.
“It’s more effective to have hands-on training than just read about it from a book or a manual,” Mattox said. “Getting them down here gets them familiar with the runway, the surroundings and the aircraft. By having real-time training, hopefully their response will be second nature if the situation actually happens in the future.”
When the fire from the simulated plane crash has been “put out,” Mattox said he then teaches a class on the inner workings of an airplane.
“If there are passengers trapped on the plane, they’ll need to know how to navigate through it to get them out safely,” Mattox said. “I show the firemen where they would need to cut into a plane without spilling the fuel and how they can shut off the power.”
Mansell said the airport training is something they try to do every year to keep the information fresh on their minds.
“The more they practice this kind of stuff, the more efficient they’ll be,” Mansell said. “And that’s the whole point: to be the most efficient as possible at what we do.”