Fire and rescue workers spent the day a the Sioux Gateway Airport Thursday conducting an emergency drill.
The drill fell on the 23rd anniversary of the day rescue personnel were called out to the real thing with the crash of Flight 232.
Sioux City’s preparation for such an emergency was cited as a reason that over 180 people survived the crash. Airport operations manager, John Baker, helped coordinate the drill.
Baker explains that they simulated the response and knocking down a fire so rescuers could go in and get the passengers.
Over 50 volunteers played the parts of victims and wore makeup and tags describing their injuries so crews could respond to their needs.
“That’s part of our exercise, is we would work with the airline and say ‘okay we have a manifest, we have this many number of passengers, so that’s how many victims we’re looking for’,” Baker said.
Local crews take part in the crash and rescue training every two to three years. Organizers say it was just a coincidence that the drill took place on the anniversary of the United 232 crash.
Woodbury County Emergency Services Director, Gary Brown, help organize the first local rescue response drill several months before the plane crash, and he also took part in Thursday’s drill.
“It’s critically important, it brings the agencies together, they get to see other, work with each other, refamiliarize themselves with communications, the logistics of being on an airfield, getting in and out of the gate. You know, it’s just a matter of time before we have another airport emergency out here,” according to Brown.
He says the equipment and communication capability has improved, but one thing is lacking. Brown says, “The only big concern that we have is what we’ve seen over the last two decades, is a real dwindling in the numbers of people willing to participate in public safety programs, especially in the volunteer core. So our resources, they are much less today than they were 23 years ago.”
Brown still has vivid memories of the crash day in 1989 and how Sioux City’s effort was shared with airport personnel all over the world.
“A hundred-12 people lost their lives as a result of that crash, 184 survivor’s lives were changed forever, our community was transformed, the emergency responders’ lives were changed,” Brown says, “anytime we can share those lessons learned and help other communities think about preparedness and remind our own community to think about preparedness, we’ll work with these folks to do that.”
Most of the rescue workers who took part in Thursday’s drill were still in school when the crash happened in 1989.
By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City