Operation Swift Response, a two-day drill held in Plainville and Topsfield last week allowed first responders to test their strengths statewide.
Several agencies and technical rescue teams from the South Shore took part in the joint response under one command post in the simulation of an EF3 tornado. The practice drill required the deployment of rescue teams to multiple sites for recovery, rescue and support.
More than a dozen local fire chiefs also participated in area command posts as part of the disaster drill.
“It was a great training exercise, working alongside the technical teams from each county and utilizing statewide assets — everything from technical rescues to learning the logistics of area command,” said Whitman Fire Chief Timothy Grenno.
Hanson Fire Lt. Robert O’Brien Jr., was deputy director of operations for Plymouth County Technical Rescue Team. They quickly learned that moving personnel was their first priority and on day one of the drill relocated 150 people by aircraft from the Mansfield Airport.
“We had a limitation in what we could move for equipment. We had to come up with a better system in what we moved first,” O’Brien said. “We were able to move six people using the medevac helicopter. In the utility helicopters we were able to move 11-12 person teams.”
With 14 squads participating, the helicopter was repurposed to bring in other resources forcing the “players in the drill” to rethink their strategy and reconfigure their resources.
Mannequins and live victims, portrayed by military personnel, were used during rescue missions and as part of the hands-on medical phase.
Victims who were “injured” but described as walking wounded were airlifted out and the remaining “victims” had symptom cards describing their injuries for rescuers.
“We now have a better system in place to move equipment and as far as moving personnel it was flawless,” said O’Brien.
Such lessons were the object of the exercise, which tested the overall effectiveness of emergency operations in case of a major disaster.
More than 100 first responders including many local firefighters attended the physically challenging exercise. The teams were moved by National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to the drill site.
In press releases prior to the event, Capt. Rob Reardon of Duxbury Fire, PIO assistant coordinator for the drill, said several local and statewide participants were involved: Fire Chiefs of Massachusetts, Technical Rescue Committee, COMTRIST, National Guard, Department of Fire Services, Mass Emergency Management Agency, Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Norfolk, and Plymouth and District 14 Technical Rescue Teams.
The drill was intended as a test in times of disaster and will predict future areas of improvement for all responders.
“It went very well. It took a lot of planning — 24 separate meetings. We had a few small hiccups as part of the learning process but for the most part — it went very well,” said Chief Kevin Nord of the Duxbury Fire Department.
There were several goals in running the two simultaneous drill sites including the main component of communication between rescue teams and assembling resources to manage an area that was “deemed inaccessible,” he said.
Participants assembled in teams with approximately 90 skilled technical rescue technicians as part of the incident.
Two National Guard helicopters were used; one flying from the north and one from the south to access the drill sites.
The Plainville Fire department doesn’t have its own technical team but they do have members who train on other tech squads. Nord expressed great thanks for Chief Justin Alexander as a gracious host to one of the sites as well as the entire Plainville Fire Department.
Along with the more than 100 participants in the drill there were abundant efforts in coordination, said Nord.
The logistics and planning between sites, central command and communication for a wide area were well coordinated during the two twelve hour days funded by FCAM Technical Rescue Committee, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the Massachusetts National Guard. Training funding was used for participating agencies, according to the press release.
Teams had great exposure and familiarization working with the National Guard soldiers who were embedded in the event, said Nord.
He also thanked everyone who came together for the drill.
Gen. Rice was very gracious to allow us the use of the National Guard’s Black Hawks, Nord said. The coordination and positive response of participants was “exceptional,” said Nord.
Gov. Charlie Baker and EOPPS Secretary Dan Bennett attended along with his undersecretary.
The governor was pleased by the show of support of the Commonwealth, said Nord.