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Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport simulates disaster to train local emergency services

Airport Fire 1.JPG
Erin Gottsacker
Fire crews respond to a simulated disaster at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

There was a fire on the tarmac at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport Thursday morning.

It wasn’t caused by an accident. It was a controlled fire to train local fire, law enforcement and emergency services personnel.

The Rhinelander-Oneida County airport simulates a full-scale disaster every three years, complete with flames blazing near a fake airplane and volunteer victims sprawled on the concrete.

It’s a practice meant to prepare local emergency crews for a real disaster.

Airport Fire 2.JPG
Erin Gottsacker

“Every commercial service airport has to do this, whether you’re LAX, O’Hare, or Rhinelander-Oneida County,” says Airport Director Matthew Leitner. “We simulate a disaster. For the purpose of this exercise, it’s going to be an uncontained engine explosion.”

Following the explosion, the airport’s fire team, Rhinelander’s fire, ambulance, and police departments and regional emergency medical services are tasked with working together to respond to the situation.

“If ever anything like this were to happen, we have to be ready,” Leitner says. “It’s imperative that we practice and that we rehearse and that we all know our roles and are at any moment to respond to a disaster.”

Disasters at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport rarely happen, but they are not unheard of.

Just two years ago, Leitner says emergency crews responded to an accident with a FedEx plane.

Because of training exercises like this, crews were prepared to handle the situation.

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