Metro Airport mock disaster drill tests EBR first responders

Injured teenagers lay strewn across the tarmac at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport on Thursday morning, but their gruesome wounds were actually makeup and their cries of pain were only an act in a mock disaster drill.

The 50 teens, from the Louisiana National Guard’s Youth Challenge program at Carville, portrayed the victims of a domestic violence incident gone terribly wrong. The drill’s scenario was about an angry man who wanted to kill his flight attendant wife by blowing up a commercial airplane she was working on, then shooting the passengers.

Because the airport was still operating as usual, the drill took place near a cargo warehouse south of the main terminal far from the active runways. A large bus was used to represent the plane.

Occasional morning rains, however, prohibited the use of pyrotechnics and smoke. And as the scene unfolded, the “active shooter” scenario also was abandoned.

In spite of the changes, the drill went fairly smoothly, according to Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport Police Chief Anthony Williams.

“Two thumbs up,” Williams said after it was finished just after 9:30 a.m. and a steady rain chased everyone inside. “Everybody got here in a timely manner and everybody is safe.”

A disaster drill is required by the Federal Aviation Administration at least once every three years for all commercial airports, according to an airport news release. Local emergency responders are required to test their skills, equipment and coordinating response times.

“We train as realistically as possible,” Williams said, noting that they use mutual aid from all area responders in emergency drills.

The agencies participating Thursday included the airport’s fire and police departments, Transportation Safety Administration, Baton Rouge police and fire and Emergency Medical Services, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security Command Center motor coach, and the police and fire departments from nearby Baker and Zachary.

The teens portraying victims eventually were transported on CATS buses to Ochsner Medical Center, Baton Rouge General Medical Center Mid-City, Baton Rouge General Bluebonnet and Lane Regional hospitals to test the capabilities of those facilities as well.

Soon after the 8:25 a.m. radio call of an emergency went out, two of the airport firetrucks rolled several hundred yards to douse the “fire” with water. Because commercial flights were still arriving and departing, the department’s third truck sat manned and ready at the fire station.

Some of the teens made it out of the wreckage on their own and lay on the tarmac while police officers and firefighters, some dressed in silver-colored fire-retardant suits, helped the injured and hysterical teens out of the bus.

“I need my teddy bear!” screamed a head-injured Shelby Galloway, 16, of Covington, as various firefighters tried to calm her down.

Medics laid out three colored tarps: green for the lesser injuries, yellow for “‘walking wounded” and red for critical. The teen’s injuries were assessed and the injuries identified by various colored tags tied around their necks.

Injuries ranged from facial burns to broken bones to internal injuries, and even deafness and head injuries from the explosive detonation that never actually occurred.

Those on the red tarp were to be transported first.

“My face, my face!” moaned Aaron Middleton, 17, of Hammond, his face “burned” red with makeup, as a firefighter sat him down on the green tarp, with other groaning teens.

“Oh! It hurts so bad!” cried Makayla Washington, 17, of Shreveport, lying on the yellow tarp with a broken leg and internal injuries. “I can’t feel my legs.”

After checking on Washington’s injuries, Kevin Sanchez, assistant fire chief for District 6, said their response time was “about four minutes,” and their mission was first to knock down the fire then triage the patients. “It‘s going very well,” he said midway through the exercise.

As the scenario unfolded, firetrucks from the various departments and police cars continued to roll in. What looked and sounded like mass confusion was actually well orchestrated as each officer, firefighter and EMT pitched in.

“To me, this was all very realistic,” said Anthony Musso, an airport police officer, as he peeled out of his hot, silver-colored fire suit after it was over.

“Especially the noise — they were all yellin’,” said officer Robbie Andrews, pulling off his gear.

“It definitely brought stress to the situation, which is what we need,” Musso said.

Chief Williams praised the teens after the airport part of the drill was over and before they loaded into buses to go to the hospitals.

“I’m proud of all of you,” Williams said. “We all thank you. We couldn’t test our systems without you.”

The teens, at-risk youths voluntarily enrolled in the Louisiana National Guard’s Youth Challenge program to complete their education, responded with a hearty Army “Hoo-ah!”