At the beginning of May, the Larchmont Volunteer Ambulance Corps (VAC) took part in a full-scale emergency drill at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY. A commercial airliner was simulated colliding with a small single-engine plane. The “collision” left 150 “victims” on the runway, actors playing the part of survivors of the planes that had broken apart and burned.
In addition to the Larchmont group, there were many local organizations participating in the drill, including three major airlines, seven fire departments, 20 EMS agencies and several law enforcement departments, among them the Westchester County police and the FBI.
Attending the drill from VAC were Grant Nishanian; second lieutenant, Sean O’ Brien, Jr., third lieutenant; Michael Destine, EMT, and Carly Casterella, attendant/driver. This wasn’t the first drill for the Larchmont VAC.
“We’ve participated in drills like this before,” said Mr. Nishanian. “Luckily we haven’t had to respond to an emergency on a large scale recently, but we feel ready to in case something does happen.”
The simulated drills are considered excellent training for first responders to practice in a realistic setting. “This is a learning opportunity to see what is going right and what needs to be adjusted,” said Mr. Nishanian.
While VAC attended the event as a team, each member had the opportunity to take on different duties. This gave each a unique perspective and the chance to develop skills to manage responding to a full-scale emergency at the Westchester County Airport or another location.
More than 400 people were involved in the actual drill on May 1st. They included first responders, actors, exercise controllers and evaluators. Mr. O’Brien believes these drills are of great value to the community. “It shows that we train and keep our skills, and it makes the surrounding community feel far safer knowing what we do. The community can also volunteer as patients for drills which gives them a closer look into what we do.”
For those concerned about the potential of being in a full-scale emergency, Mr. Nishanian offers the following suggestions, “If you are in an accident, you have to stay calm. When the first responders arrive, there will be a lot going on at once. If you are the one to call 911, let the dispatcher know what’s going on honestly.”
“It’s okay if you don’t know something,” he added. “Don’t make up an answer because you think that’s what the dispatcher wants to hear. It’s important to answer questions honestly, so they can get the right people to the scene and let them know what’s going on enroute.”
The full-scale drill was organized by airport officials and Westchester County’s Department of Emergency Services and Department of Public Safety. While the FAA considers these drills a requirement every three years, the Westchester County Airport conducts a full-scale drill every alternate year.
Abigail Beal is a volunteer writer with the Larchmont Ambulance Corps. Information on VAC or on volunteering can be found at http://www.larchmontvac.org.