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Small Plane Crashes Require Special Response Strategies

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By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

Commercial airlines have professional pilots with hundreds of logged flying time who are licensed to fly specific types of aircraft. They often fly the same routes and so are likely to be as good at flying a plane to your destination as you are at driving your car to work.

However, there is another group of pilots who fly smaller planes part-time or for a hobby. They might not be as familiar with the routes or the aircraft equipment as commercial pilots.

When these general aviation pilots have accidents, they often crash in areas away from airports. Local first responders might not be familiar with how to handle these rare disasters.

Initial 911 Calls Needs to Be Clarified and Coordinated

Information coming into a 911 center is frequently confusing because multiple calls generate numerous addresses and reports. People who did not actually witness the crash might report the crash as an explosion because it shook their home or office.

When a plane breaks apart upon impact witnesses often report different locations for the crash site. Just finding the bulk of the wreckage and responding to the location can be difficult.

It’s best to establish one centralized command post and assign the various dispatch locations by address, neighborhood and other characteristics of the site. This practice facilitates the coordination and relaying of information on one communications channel.

Fires and Explosions Require Special Attention

A fuel-fed fire is one of the first problems that a non-Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) response organization confronts. If the response team is fortunate, the plane will have run out of fuel and not contribute to the fire.

A plane that crashes on takeoff has the most amount of fuel and needs firefighting foam to extinguish the fire. Local emergency response organizations should have a plan in place for getting foam to a crash site rapidly.

Another issue with some small aircraft or military crashes is the onboard ejection mechanism. It can explode and send a projectile at responding personnel. It’s best to approach a fallen aircraft from the front because the escape mechanism is designed to shoot out the top of the plane rearward, ejecting the pilot to parachute to safety.

While there are many variables to small aircraft crash responses, understanding safety concerns, transmitting dispatch information accurately and planning for needed resources prior to an event creates a safer, more efficient response.

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.