Times Staff Writer
LARGO — The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport emergency preparedness drill started with a bang.
The drill simulated a scenario where a passenger on board a plane is found to have an explosive. Negotiations fail and the passenger detonates the bomb, leaving emergency responders to put out the fire and evacuate the wounded passengers.
Of course, on Tuesday no explosives were detonated inside the MD-80 airplane that was filled with Pinellas Park High School students and emergency response volunteers posing as victims. However, agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did set off a small explosion on the adjacent grass field.
Following the detonation, airport fire trucks sprayed down a target on the grass with fire-retardant foam. Then the "walking wounded" volunteers exited single file out of the front of the aircraft while the back was opened for the seriously injured and dead.
Cards worn around the volunteers' necks designated the injuries they suffered from the bomb. Injured volunteers were treated for their simulated wounds by firefighters.
The drill was a cooperative effort between the airport and various local and federal agencies, and involved 50 to 75 first responders and around 100 volunteers. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that all commercial airports conduct an emergency preparedness drill every three years, but the scenario varies. In 2011 the St. Pete-Clearwater and Tampa airports teamed up for a drill simulating a plane crash-landing into the bay.
Pinellas Park High students were thrilled at the opportunity to participate in the event as part of the school's First Responders Program. The program gives students the opportunity to train and work with first responders to open up future career opportunities in the field.
"It was really fun," said Tatjana Lakic, a student in the program who was, unfortunately, labeled as dead during the simulation. "It was a good experience being able to work with firefighters."
More emergency preparedness drills are scheduled for Sarasota and Bradenton airports Wednesday and Tampa International Airport Thursday.
Will Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.