Emergency personnel show stuff in disaster drill

"South Whidbey's emergency fire, medical, and law enforcement professionals proved to themselves and locals from Clinton to Freeland that they can handle anything.Just minutes after saving the life of a teenage driver badly hurt in a fatal car crash on Coles Road last Tuesday, June 20, Fire Protection District 3 volunteers, local sheriff's deputies and police officers, and paramedics had to rush to another emergency call. On their radios and pagers, they heard that a fire had started at Freeland Hall during a teen dance. Minutes later, after an advance fire crew had gone into the building, they heard that a propane stove had exploded, trapping firefighters and an unknown number of teenagers inside.Fortunately, this call was only a drill, the district's annual, island-wide disaster drill.For the fifth year in a row, FD 3 drill organizers used every trick they could think of to make this drill the biggest and most realistic of the year. They used a cannon to simulate a propane explosion, stage smoke to obscure firefighters' vision inside the hall, and a propane-powered flame generator to make real flames outside the building. They called in fire companies from all the other island fire departments, three ambulance companies, a medical helicopter, and NAS Whidbey personnel. And, for variety, they threw in a crushed car with a dummy inside in need of rescuing.Jerry Beck, the drill's head organizer and FD 3 lieutenant for public education and fire prevention, said everyone who responded to the drill did their jobs flawlessly. That went double for the FD 3 personnel, who had yet to recover from responding to the earlier car accident. I think Fire District 3 really pulled together big time, Beck said.Beck said more than 100 rescuers took over two hours to find 49 made-up, volunteer victims in the hall and on the nearby grounds, triage them, and ship them off to Whidbey General Hospital. Inside the hall, firefighters had to crawl through a maze of hay bales and plywood to find victims in the smoky interior.Drills like this have given Island firefighters experience they would not otherwise have, Beck said.We have gained enormous amounts of talent over the years, he said.Beck has already begun to organize next year's drill."

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