Emergency services respond to mass casualty training

Firefighters from Rogue Valley International Medford Airport put out a small fire behind the plane used in Tuesday's mass casualty simulation. Crews used burning pallets to simulate pieces of the plane that broke off on "impact" and burst into flames. (News 10/Mike Marut)

Tuesday morning, emergency services from across the Rogue Valley responded to a plane crash.

It was planned - complete with injury makeup to rival movie sets.

This type of mass casualty exercise only happens every three years per Federal Aviation Administration requirements. For the two years in between each exercise, crews do a tabletop simulation where they use models instead of real people, a real plane and real fires.

The plane crash, dubbed Rogue Airlines Flight 123, occurred just after 10:00 Tuesday morning with emergency responders arriving shortly after in waves as the severity in the situation increased. Medford Fire-Rescue, Ashland Fire & Rescue, Jackson County Fire District 3 were just a few of the agencies responding to the incident.

Scanner traffic flooded with calls of a plane crash.

"We do have an aircraft who's crashed," a dispatcher said to responding units. "We have multiple fires."

Fires dotted the tarmac around the plane, simulating pieces of the plane that broke off and ignited.

The plane was supposed to simulate one of the regional passenger jets that passes through the Rogue Valley International Medford Airport every day, a CRJ-200. Emergency services used a smaller Learjet donated to the cause from MillionAir.

Victims with varying degrees of injuries littered the airport tarmac's east side, including News 10's Brian Schnee who was embedded in the fray.

"They gave us these cards. My injury is 23% of my body is burned, I have a closed head injury and I have breathing problems, so I'm kind of excited," Kinsey Lovich, one of the victims, said.

"I'm burned all over my shoulder and I have lacerations on my arm," Riley Lovich said.

The Lovich sisters are both part of a program with Mercy Flights in which they take part in similar situations every other week - just not to this extent or size. Both want to be involved in the medical industry in some form, Riley specifically wants to go into emergency medicine so a training like this puts her right in the middle of everything and gives her a different perspective.

"It gives me an idea of what's happening with a patient," Riley said. "If I ever have to be on the other side of this, I can say, 'Oh I have an idea of what this patient is going through.'"

Airport Fire Chief John Karns previously worked as fire chief for Ashland Fire & Rescue and attended the simulation three years ago in that capacity. Now, he runs the operation.

"I think I have an appreciation for this [being] a complex event," Karns said. "There are many moving parts to it. As they say, the devil is in the details and you really need to coordinate everything."

As the organizer for the exercise, Karns also threw responders some curve-balls. Over the radio, dispatchers called out for Medford Police and Jackson County Sheriff's Office to corral fugitives that had escaped custody once the plane crashed. These so-called fugitives were on the plane at the time, but apparently didn't suffer significant enough "injuries" to not run.

The whole exercise steered responders to identify what works and what doesn't with their internal policies and their coordination with the airport.

"Are there improvements that can be made on the airport emergency plan? That's what we're trying to do," Karns said.

According to evaluators on scene, the highlights for the drill were the family reunification process and the firefighting process. The struggles for responders turned out to be internal communication and traffic on the tarmac - who goes where and what the duties of each responding vehicle and team are.

Speaking of the family reunification process, the newest K-9 Chaplain, named Hero, debuted at the exercise Tuesday morning. Hero graduated from Canine Angels last week and shortly thereafter arrived in Medford. Tuesday's incident was his first challenge to avoid distractions.

"He would be used to be around family members, anyone that's having trauma, traumatic issues or emotional issues and just be around to bring comfort and to bring some love into the situation," Fred Saada, Executive Chaplain for the Southern Oregon Public Safety Chaplains said.

Hero and Saada joined families for the family reunification portion of the exercise during and after the crash.



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