Air show safety: Barnes conducts its largest-ever accident response exercise in advance of August event

  • A Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C fighter aircraft sits near a hangar at Barnes Air National Guard Base, in Westfield, in 2014. Steven Senne

Published: 5/24/2017 9:08:48 PM

Westfield — No planes were harmed at Barnes Air National Guard Base on Wednesday in the staging of the largest worst-case accident response drill that has ever occurred on the base.

Some 200 people representing over 30 local and state agencies, including firefighters, police officers and paramedics, gathered at Barnes in Westfield for the major accident response exercise being conducted by members of the 104th Fighter Wing. The exercise was conducted in advance of a public air show to be performed on the base Aug. 12 and 13.

Participants went through the procedures that would take place if two planes collided midair during the show. The premise involved one plane crashing in the nearby woods while the other careened into a group of onlookers.

Helicopters, ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles all rushed to the scene of the “accident.”

Bloodied mannequins stood in for the injured parties, blocks of wood represented fiery debris and the mood on-base was more good humored than gruesome.

Senior Airman Adam Offenstine played a parent whose missing child had been last seen in the area of the plane crash. In the simulation, he acted shocked and panicked as he tried to break through the crowd to reach his child.

Sporting military fatigues, Offenstine wore a jaunty red reflective sash across his chest to designate his actor status. He says the experience was “pretty fun.”

Dramatics aside, these exercises serve an important purpose. Tech Sgt. Amelia Leonard said that by going through a worst-case scenario, people on base feel more calm before the air show.

The exercises also help build camaraderie across departments and foster connections among workers from state agencies that rarely see each other outside of crime scenes and emergencies.

Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Jeffers, who played a wing inspector in the exercise, also works part time at the Southampton Police department.

Jeffers welcomed a chance to build connections between police officers and the air force.

“We work with them on crime scenes but in exercises we get to work with them in a collaborative sense,” he said.

Offenstine echoed the sentiment, saying that he enjoyed the chance to get to know two Mercy Hospital staff members when he was riding in the ambulance. “It felt like people cared,” he says.

The exercise ran from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. with the participants trying to work as quickly as possible to help those who has sustained faux-injuries, mimicking the urgency of a real accident.

Air show emergencies are uncommon but not unheard of. Plane technical failures and pilot errors contribute to a handful of air show crashes each year. A 1988 crash at Ramstein Air Base in West Germany during an airshow killed 70 and injured hundreds more.

The August air show at Barnes will be the first on-base in seven years and will feature military and civilian acts. More information can be found online at westfieldairshow.org.




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