Agencies Join in Mass Casualty Drill at Yellowstone Airport

Seven agencies recently came together to test their capabilities for fire suppression, medical treatment and law enforcement, as the first ever-mass casualty drill in West Yellowstone was conducted at the Yellowstone Airport.

At around 9 a.m. that morning, the Yellowstone Airport called 911 to dispatch a scenario where an airplane had crashed at the airport and mass casualties were reported. The mock drill also had an additional twist, in that scenario, one of the passengers on the plane possibly had a knife and had moved from the crash site into the airport terminal.

Yellowstone Airport personnel were first on the scene and began spraying the truck that was serving as the downed aircraft. Within minutes, the Hebgen Basin Fire District responded.

As the scene unfolded, members of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone Police Department, Department of Livestock, U.S. Forest Service Smokejumpers and Gallatin County Search and Rescue also responded. SkyWest Airlines, Transportation Security Administration and Yellowstone Aviation (field services) were also on the scene during the drill.

“It was a simulated airplane crash with fatalities and injuries,” HBFD Fire Chief Scott Waldron said. “It gave us an opportunity to test our mass casualty of triage treatment and transport. It also gave law enforcement an opportunity to practice their search tactics and capabilities inside the terminal for a suspect with a weapon.”

According to Waldron, this was the first live drill ever conducted at the airport that was a “full-blown” exercise.

Law enforcement agencies focused on searching for the suspect in the terminal, while SAR located injured passengers and followed specific patient information. After all of the patient boards were located and treated, SAR and Western Montana Search Dogs used their cadaver dogs to locate additional human remains.

Bonnie Whitman works as a Yellowstone National Park ranger, along with being a volunteer with SAR and a dog handler. She says mock drills like this are invaluable for their training.

“We learn something new every time,” she said. “We’re exposing dogs to new areas and training is invaluable. This also lets the area know what we can provide.”

At the crash site, numerous boards were placed throughout the open field surrounding the area. While HBFD focused on putting out the fire, Gallatin County Search and Rescue went to work on locating all of the boards, which had a sheet of paper with the patient’s information. Each patient was treated as a live patient, Waldron said.

The drill also was the first opportunity the HBFD had to use their airport rescue and firefighting (ARFF) truck, which has special foam they can spray to deal with flammable liquid fires, such as gasoline and diesel fires.

According to Waldron, they picked the vehicle up with the Federal Excess Property Program a year ago, and said the truck gives the HBFD another useful tool to use in town or on the highway. By holding drills like this, the fire chief says they can make sure equipment functions correctly, while also testing communications on the radio between various agencies.

“We’re very isolated; the next help is an hour away,” Waldron said. “We have to figure out amongst agencies here how to help each other because you don’t have enough resources by yourself.”

Yellowstone Airport manager Jeff Kadlec says the drill was a success, as it was a good to get multiple agencies familiar with the airport environment.

“We learned where adjustments can be made,” he said. “Ultimately, it was a success and we’re looking to do more training throughout the year.”

According to Kadlec, the airport is required to do an emergency and a security tabletop exercise once a year to satisfy Federal Aviation Administration and TSA requirements. Tabletop exercises are discussions where invested parties discuss various scenarios in a meeting form. By having a mock mass casualty drill, they combined the exercises into one event, and went above and beyond what they are required to do.

Overall, Waldron said he’s pleased with the outcome of the drill.

“It went very well,” he said. “Everyone was able to complete their assignments and test their capabilities and learn their strengths and weaknesses. I’m very happy with the outcome.”