By Cheryl Albiez, Port Authority Media Relations
From a distance, the realistic, but staged scene at Stewart International Airport mirrors the devastating aftermath of an actual airplane accident: the charred remains of a fuselage, thick black smoke, the acrid smell of jet fuel heavy in the air. Flashing red lights and blaring sirens. Injured victims strewn randomly on the ground.
This is a drill, fortunately – only a drill.
Center stage at this mock mayhem on a Saturday morning in May, first responders clad in white protective gear pump water onto a fiercely burning fire in hopes of quickly bringing it under control. Barely audible above the din, a young man playing one of those injured screams as medical personnel hoist him carefully onto a stretcher, so as not to cause him further injury had this been the real deal.
These are not actors in a movie shoot. At least not the celebrity kind who strut their stuff on the red carpet and win Oscars for their performances. Although deserving of a nod from the Academy for their vivid and realistic portrayals of injured passengers, these actor/student volunteers hail from institutions around the region: Orange/Ulster Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, Newburgh Free Academy-Junior ROTC, Orange County Medical Reserves, Red Tail Youth Flying Group and the Monroe Woodbury Middle School.
Terrifying plane crashes are tried and true storylines for big-ticket blockbusters, but in the real world the prospect of even a minor emergency is taken very seriously at the Port Authority – which is why the agency has invested billions in security at its facilities.
That investment has included the staging of full-scale exercises like the one at Stewart International that enables facility personnel, agency partners and local emergency organizations important opportunities to train together under different emergency scenarios.
The Port Authority’s Office of Emergency Management creates these exercises as faithfully as possible to the real thing – replete with live fire, mock casualties, first responders, medical support teams and a command structure – not to entertain movie goers and win awards, but to potentially save lives by practicing on a regular basis.
These warriors spring into action to face down fierce flames and assist injured people as dress rehearsal for what occurs in real emergencies. So if and when that time arrives, they stand prepared and ready to be heroes.
Drill participants at Stewart included the New York National Guard, the New York State Police, JetBlue Airways staff, U.S. federal law enforcement agencies and several mutual aid fire departments and EMS.