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June 15, 2019

Jamie Taylor/river news PHOTOS

Instructors from ARFF Specialists of Hermantown, Mich. watch as a crew of firefighters tackle a fire during a full-scale disaster exercise Thursday at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.
Jamie Taylor/river news PHOTOS

Instructors from ARFF Specialists of Hermantown, Mich. watch as a crew of firefighters tackle a fire during a full-scale disaster exercise Thursday at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.
A firefighter prepares to grab two dummies simulating injured passengers as another carries two dummies to the triage area to be evaluated.
A firefighter prepares to grab two dummies simulating injured passengers as another carries two dummies to the triage area to be evaluated.
5/4/2019 7:30:00 AM
Mock disaster teaches teamwork under stress
Area first responders train for aircraft fire

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter

Area fire and rescue agencies, along with a cadre of law enforcement officers, gathered Thursday at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport to practice what they would do if a commercial airliner leaving the airport experienced an engine explosion.

To practice the skills they would need in such a situation, a simulator resembling an aircraft complete with seats, overhead compartments, galley, flight deck and lavatory was brought in by a Minnesota firm that specializes in these training exercises.

Airport manager Matt Leitner said the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires airports to hold an annual drill to go over all the procedures, and also hold a full-scale mock exercise that is called a "live burn." Every three years, the airport must hold a drill that involves other area emergency agencies so that they are also familiar with how a large disaster would be approached. That is what they were doing on Thursday.

That's where Wade Boyat of ARFF Specialists of Hermantown, Mich. comes in. ARFF stands for Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting.

"We actually get responses from all over the United States but we are pretty much a Midwest company," Boyat said. "We probably service over a 100 departments every summer. And with that, we bring the tactics that would be used in the event of an aviation fire, which is unique in and of itself."

"I have a long working relationship with Wade," Leitner said. "When I was the airport director in Jamestown, N.D., I knew him, he's a great guy and he runs a great company. They provide a priceless service to us."

Boyat said the simulator resembles an aircraft and the interior gives firefighters a chance to get familiar with the tactics they would need to implement in the event of an aircraft rescue. For the purposes of Thursday's simulation, the aircraft was said to be carrying 28 passengers.

"It looks and it smells and it reacts just like an aircraft, and that's what we want, so when firefighters are training, we want to make sure that those firefighters are trained in an environment that is realistic to them," Boyat said. "And that's what this simulator allows them to do."

He said the simulator is designed so that firefighters can experience elements of a real disaster, complete with the screams of those "trapped" inside the plane, smoke-filled cabin and flames that ignite on the roof and beside the plane and dummies scattered both inside and outside the plane that must be rescued.

As part of the exercise, the combined firefighting and rescue crews responded alongside the simulator and then fought the flames while others set up a triage for injured and a steady stream of ambulances rotated through as they would in a real event.

Boyat said attention to detail is important for the firefighters so they know how to react to the real thing.

"If we can do that for them, when the real thing happens, they've had a chance to practice on something that is similar," Boyat said. "That's what makes people better; it's training. So if you can train in the real world, and if it feels like it, it makes them a lot better and it actually saves a lot of lives. That's what we want."

He also noted that the best thing area fire departments can do in the event of an aircraft disaster is work together and drills help them simulate doing just that.

"The best thing that people can do as a fire service is work together," Boyat said. "You have to trust the brother or sister that is with you to do the proper work. That's what's going to save your life and those around you."

"Airplanes don't crash all the time, so firefighters don't get to practice on the very craft that they might have to take advantage of in the near future," Boyat added. "What we hope is that never happens, aircraft are very safe, very safe. But when they do go wrong, we need people out there that actually have some background and some training, and that's where we come in."

While drilling firefighters on the physical tasks they would have to perform in the event of an aircraft disaster, mental toughness is also important, he added.

"Firefighting is technique. At the end of the day what we want is for firefighters to understand it in their head," Boyat said. "Once you have it in your head the body follows, so if we can teach them physically and mentally to react to something that happens in front of them in every incident or once in a generation. What we want to do is get inside their head and make sure they have it straight. If they have it straight in their head, it will all fall into place."

Boyat said his company provides a range of simulations, including those involving special weapons and tactics teams having to gain control of an aircraft.

"It's one goal: training," Boyat said. "It's always about getting them trained and used to what could happen in the future."

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at

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