CAE holds full-scale emergency exercise; burns plane and treats volunteer victims

Firefighters had to extinguish a plane on Thursday at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, but the fire was set intentionally.

Columbia, S.C. (WOLO) — Firefighters had to extinguish a plane on Thursday at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, but the fire was set intentionally. It was all part of a full-scale emergency exercise for first responders.

Every three years, the Federal Aviation Administration mandates that the airport tests its emergency plan with a full-scale scenario. So on Thursday, hundreds of people helped put that plan in action.

Every aspect of the exercise was planned and controlled.

“The plane was on the Alpha taxiway getting ready to wait for its departure time and another plane came in, swerved left, hit the plane, broke apart,” said Eddie Martin, Director of Public Safety at CAE.

Bursting into flames, the airplane crash left dozens of volunteers needing medical attention.

“I had a head and neck trauma, with like blood, and then also having a lot of trouble breathing,” said Maggie Murphy, a senior nursing student at the University of South Carolina.

This emergency took six months of planning.

“Tested our fire emergency plan, tested our mutual aid, refilling our fire trucks, triage and patients, and transporting patients to area hospitals,” said Martin.

There were about eight casualties, and 55 were transported to four local hospitals. Again, those are fake statistics and just the outcome of this exercise.

In all, several hundred people were part of the exercise.

“We had 21 agencies, 176 volunteers come out and assist us,” said Martin.

“The emergency response agencies in this area work together cohesively, seamlessly,” said Harrison Cahill, the Public Information Officer with Lexington Co.

Some of the volunteer victims were UofSC nursing students, and they said being on the other side of an accident or mass disaster was a good experience as they prepare to work in a hospital.

“Being patient with everybody but also getting to everybody in time and understanding the nervousness and the screaming and everything that is happening,” said Murphy. 

First responders train like this to make sure they’re ready for the worst-case scenario.

“When you least expect it, things happen. You gotta train, that’s it. Train and use your mutual aid partners, and work together as a team. Be prepared,” said Martin.

In three years, another emergency exercise will be held, but will a different storyline.

“In three years we’re thinking about doing some kind of terrorist activity, something like that to get the FBI involved and a more of a police presence,” said Martin.

During the exercise, there were evaluators all around taking notes and observing the different agencies’ responses. Airport officials will find out what they did well, what they did bad, and how they can improve.

It’s always about the training and being prepared for the worst-case possible.

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