SF Crews Perform Helicopter Crash Drill

May 3, 2017

First responders and medical professionals are assessing their performance during a mock helicopter crash. They held the drill Tuesday morning. Crews began by pretending they had Avera helicopter on the Sanford landing pad and people were hurt. 

Firefighters drag a hose to the roof of a hospital parking ramp. They call for water, and they simulate putting out flames all around a vehicle. In this training, it’s a van – but everyone knows they’re practicing for a helicopter crash.

Operations Battalion Chief Travis Thom is the incident commander for the drill.

"We established a division up top that essentially went in and made the rescues of the patients that were involved in the helicopter," Thom says.

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue crews perform a helicopter crash drill.
Credit Andrew Bork / SDPB

Employees act as victims. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue crews pull patients out of the helicopter. They perform initial assessments, and first responders move them away from an envisioned chemical spill.

Some firefighters shift people hurt onto heavy, Army green tarps and shuffle them down the stairs.

Four levels beneath the helicopter launch pad, a fire truck idles. Its lights flash, and a tall white ladder extends from the top of the truck to the roof of the ramp. Crews ease a life-size dummy down the ladder and onto the ground.  

Sam Clemens with the Sioux Falls Police Department provides the official release for the training scenario. Public information officers inform media members during real crises. Clemens simulates his public update on the helicopter crash drill.

"At this point we’re not going to release any other names," Clemens says. "Three of those crew members are in critical condition, and one of them has died. There are six more people who were not on the aircraft but were injured in the incident. Two of them are listed in critical condition, and four are in serious condition."

Sanford Health crews prepare for decontamination protocols.
Credit Andrew Bork / SDPB

Crews move the victims to a decontamination area in a garage. Nurses wear gray plastic jump suits. Duct tape secures the gaps in the garments. Their breath fogs the clear plastic shields on their hazmat hoods. They pretend to spray down the victims of the mock helicopter crash to eliminated aviation fuel.

Victims who are decontaminated need assessment. Real Sanford doctors interact with people acting out symptoms. Some of the make-believe victims remain on site, and ambulances transport others to Avera for coordinated care. They go to emergency rooms or leave when medical professionals clear them.

"We do multi-casualty drills a lot of times during the year but never 25 feet away from the ER that we would be usually sending them to, so that in itself is some logistical concerns and challenges that it’s good to work through the process, working with the other agencies," Thom says. 

Somewhere inside the hospital, authorities and medical leaders coordinate. They use walkie talkies to command, and they map out who goes where and what they need to do.

Sioux Falls Police Officer Sam Clemens says inter-agency support proves critical in citywide emergencies.

"Everybody kind of does things a little bit different, so we want to do these real-world events, bring everybody together, make it as realistic as possible, and make sure that everything works," Clemens says.

Clemens says the drill allows people from the hospitals, emergency management, fire rescue, and law enforcement to assess what went well and what didn’t. He says that allows them to adjust and prepare for a real disaster.

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue
Credit Andrew Bork / SDPB