Preparing for the worst – Val d’Or airport tests first responders

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Val-d’Or is one of the last places one might expect a terrorist attack. So imagine the initial panic when a local 911 operator answered a frantic call April 9 about a bomb on an Air Creebec aircraft.

The caller quickly explained that the warning was part of a training simulation, but the adrenaline must have already been flowing. Calls then went out to the Surête du Québec, Val-d’Or fire department and other emergency services. At this point, only the supervisors of the various first responders knew that the event was in fact a training exercise designed to test their reactions and readiness.

It wasn’t until units arrived at the airport that most responders found out it was a simulation. The realization would have come as a relief, especially since Val-d’Or doesn’t have a dedicated bomb squad, let alone a terrorist-response unit. Not many will easily forget the experience, though. More than 20 passengers on the Air Creebec plane wore realistic make-up to simulate various injuries. Triage would be needed to determine the order of medical assistance.

The “victims” included student ambulance technicians in full make-up with various injuries. Meanwhile, the would-be terrorist in the scenario was a female passenger. She put up a vigorous fight that exhausted both an SQ officer and a Val-d’Or firefighter, who later told the Nation he enjoyed the exercise.

“Thank god it wasn’t real, but because of this we’ll be ready to handle a similar event in the future. I hope that never happens,” he said.

Val-d'Or simulation 2

Air Creebec spokesperson Tanya Pash said the airline conducts frequent exercises to prepare flight crews and staff for a variety of emergency situations. In this case the Val-d’Or airport had an emergency response plan they wished to test and asked Air Creebec to participate.

“Safety first,” Pash emphasized. “We have one each year and we decided to integrate the two. It’s a full-scale response so it’s going to be good for the Air Creebec staff to have contact and see what it’s like when the emergency responders come in. It’s a test practice for us because if there ever was an incident we need to know how to react. Obviously we’re not expecting one but prevention is the key.”

Pash said this is the first time in years that an aircraft was used in an emergency response training exercise in Val-d’Or. Past events were complete with smoke. “So we’re going back to a hands-on approach to improve the safety and get staff familiar with some of the situations they may encounter,” said Pash.

Few people knew what was really happening. “Only the supervisors knew,” said Pash. “We had the SQ participating, the fire department, ambulance and airport security. Only one person in each knew. I advised Transport Canada we are doing a simulation in case they got a call.”

Police blocked access roads to the airport, while the fire department gained experience hooking up to the water supply at the airport, which uses a different system than in the city of Val-d’Or.

“They want to get their people to practice that as well,” Pash said. “So it’s full scale and we’re happy to be cooperating with all first responders on this. It’s going to be good not only for the community of Val-d’Or but the Cree communities as well because we have hands-on practice.”

Val d'Or simulation 5Val-d'Or simulation 7

Air Creebec President Matthew Happyjack was satisfied with his employees’ response to the fictional emergency. “Our plane and crew were involved in this exercise. In the simulation at least 20 passengers were injured and with all the responders there was a lot of movement for this exercise. The airport manager said over 100 responders were involved,” said Happyjack.

Happyjack said Air Creebec has its own training for flight attendants and pilots. The pilot scrambled out through the window as the flight attendants handled the situation, both in the plane and when the first responders arrived. “I’m proud of our team here at Air Creebec,” he said.

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