By Steve GhiringhelliMarch 28, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fort Drum personnel conducted emergency response training on post Tuesday morning at a scene that simulated an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter crash landing with two pilots on board.
"We have been planning this for a while," said George Massarotti, Fort Drum assistant fire chief of training. "We don't get to it very often.
"The objective is to successfully and safely practice our egress and extrication skills on a (simulated) crash scene."
The training involved a realistic scenario in which an instructor pilot crash landing a Kiowa short of Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield after attempting to correct the faulty maneuvering of his pilot in training.
"(In the scenario), the pilot was on the controls, conducting a simulated failure, when a 'real' failure occurred," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Thomas, a Kiowa pilot with 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI).
"The instructor pilot attempted to slow back, but the tail stinger hit the pavement," Thomas added. "It hit so hard that the tail broke off."
Thomas and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Justin Popp, also a Kiowa pilot with 6-6 Cavalry Regiment, spent more than a month assisting garrison and division officials with planning the exercise.
Fort Drum Fire Chief Donald Striejewske said full-scale exercises build the skills, capabilities and communications of various agencies and place them at the top of their game in the event of a real emergency.
"It is extremely important when we conduct these exercises that all agencies participate," Striejewske said. "The time to learn is during these exercises, not during a real incident."
Smoke poured out from the smashed fuselage and blew across a snowy field near Division Hill as several crash and rescue trucks arrived on the scene from Fire Stations 2 and 3. As the incident commander established control, Fort Drum firefighters lugged heavy tools and pressurized tanks to the scene, including air bag systems and chain winches.
Without an engine, the scrapped Kiowa could have been easily moved by several firefighters.
"But realistically, there would be no way they could lift it," noted Massarotti, who led the emergency response at Fort Drum 10 years ago when a Black Hawk training accident claimed the lives of 11 Soldiers. "So I will make them use their tools to lift it up and get the (casualties) out."
Once a triage had been set up, emergency personnel determined that one of the two simulated casualties should be medevaced; the other one, pinned beneath the fuselage, could not be saved.
After careful patient preparation, the victim was transported to another location on a helicopter operated by LifeNet, part of a national air medical transport company that opened a hub in Watertown last summer.
Massarotti noted that Fort Drum has not had to deal with any major emergency response incidents in the years since the Black Hawk accident.
Once the exercise was finished, he said he was very pleased with his crew's performance.
"Let's put it this way," he said. "They were thinking very quickly on their feet. When they realized the severity of the injuries, they (did not want) to use any tools. They got a bunch of guys together and started lifting the helicopter."
Massarotti jumped in and told the crew to use tools, just as if the downed aircraft still had an engine. But he gave them an "A" for effort and for falling back on their training.
"It was also good because it gave us the chance to work with our military folks, including safety officers from aviation and division," he said. "We will be handing over the scene to them. We don't get to do that very often, of course -- thank God."