06/20/06 — Seymour Johnson AFB crash drill response praised

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Seymour Johnson AFB crash drill response praised

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 20, 2006 1:47 PM

Emergency workers who took part in last week's mock plane crash off Elm Street did a good job of responding to the disaster drill, civilian and military authorities said.

City and county units joined Seymour Johnson Air Force Base emergency crews Monday morning in responding to the staged crash of a KC-135 Stratotanker near the base..

The operation, dubbed Orbit Comet, was designed to test coordination between civilian and military responders. Although there is room for improvement, commanders said, the drill was a success and residents can be assured that local emergency crews are prepared for the worst.

4th Fighter Wing Mission Support Group Commander Col. Lennie Coleman said he has confidence in city and county emergency response units and that cohesion between local units and the base is improving.

"This was a great exercise from a coordination and team building perspective," he said. "We want to make sure when we show up to a scene, it's not the first time people are meeting each other,. When guys are out there, they need to understand each other and be comfortable with each other."

The key is practice and preparation, Coleman said.

"You can simulate all you want, but when you have real fire, real casualties and real bodies, it's a different situation. You want a well trained, well prepared team. And I think we have that team," he said.

Goldsboro Police Maj. Mike Hopper said he was pleased with his officer's quick and confident response.

"I think they did real well. They knew the area well and knew which streets to block off," he said.

Hopper said such exercises always point up places where improvements can be made but that drills help boost morale by giving personnel a chance to test their ability.

"Anytime you have an exercise like that it brings up your confidence," he said.

Col. Mark Holden, the deputy commander of the 4th Medical Group at the base, said local government authorities and Air Force units already have a good working relationship. Orbit Comet was about strengthening that relationship, he said.

"We actually work real world with Wayne County everyday," Holden said. "We depend on Wayne County. Wayne County EMS is always on our side. It's just improving an already super relationship."

Wayne's Emergency Services Manager Blair Tyndall echoed Holden's comments.

"We deal with Seymour's medical group on a daily basis. "We've already had a very good working relationship with those folks," Tyndall said. He added that the drill gave some of the county's units an opportunity to advance their training and test some new equipment.

"We tested some things," Tyndall said. "We were able to use our disaster response trailer and we identified things we need to add, and we actually set up a field hospital to triage the patients."

"I feel real good about Wayne County EMS. I feel like for the resources that we have here in Wayne County, we are prepared. I think one thing an exercise does is builds confidence in people."

Wayne Memorial Hospital was placed on alert during the exercise and accepted "casualties" for treatment. The hospital is a major player in any large-scale disaster response, both base and civilian officials said.

Rick Rogers, the hospital's vice president of human resources, said several "victims" were brought in from the site to be decontaminated.

"We felt it was a good drill," Rogers said. "But as is the case with most drills, there are opportunities for improvement."

Goldsboro Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield was another commander who called the exercise a success, with the caveat that some improvements can always be made.

"There's always room for improvement. But I am well pleased with the fire department's performance. They knew what needed to be done."