Emergency response to Illawarra Regional Airport test drill

Training day: The simulated emergency exercise played out at Illawarra Regional Airport. Pictures: Robert Peet
Training day: The simulated emergency exercise played out at Illawarra Regional Airport. Pictures: Robert Peet

With passenger planes and high profile air shows now a feature of Illawarra Regional Airport, staff have to prepare for all eventualities.

On Wednesday, their training and tenacity was put to the test when a ‘mock’ emergency incident requiring a multi-agency response played out on the tarmac.

The scenario? More than a dozen ‘passengers’ trapped – several injured – on a plane after a fuel fire started in one of the tanks. 

The response? Emergency services including NSW Police, Fire and Rescue NSW and Ambulance personnel rushed to the ‘scene’, quickly extinguishing the flames, herding passengers to safety and tending to their injuries which ranged from fractured limbs to smoke inhalation.

It wasn’t all plain sailing with staff met with several “surprises” they’d not envisaged – including the demands of local media who were pulled into the simulated scenario.

It gave airport staff some idea of the logistics of keeping inquisitive reporters – and other onlookers – out of harm’s way during an actual emergency.

The various players will now debrief, and take on board the successes, and any failures, of the exercise.

Rapid response: Emergency services, council and airport staff took part in the operation on Wednesday.

Rapid response: Emergency services, council and airport staff took part in the operation on Wednesday.

Shellharbour City Council director council sustainability Matt Youell said it was a Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requirement that airports hold an on-ground emergency exercise every two years. As well as that, it was vital training – for JetGo and other airport staff and especially for new emergency service recruits.

“We’re experiencing more activity at the airport – whether that’s with JetGo passenger flights or events like Wings Over Illawarra,” Mr Youell said.

“ … So it’s important that all our combat agencies, all our first responders, know what to do in the event of an emergency at the  airport.

“It’s about making sure the communication and co-ordination of such an event is optimal, to have the maximum safety procedures in place for those involved in any accident, as well as those who arrive on scene.”

NSW Ambulance Inspector Norm Rees was involved in the exercise, designed to be as realistic as possible.

“We have to test emergency service response in gaining access and rendering the place or facility safe,” he said. “While emergency services practice this daily – at car accidents, house fires and other things – it’s nice to go into the other facilities and practice under their rules.”

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