Lakewood Disaster Drill, Simulated Plane Crash Set For Saturday

LAKEWOOD – Prepare for disaster.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services and local fire, police and emergency officials will participate in a mass casualty disaster drill Saturday, in which a simulated plane crash in Chautauqua Lake will test the readiness and coordination of first responders. The drill will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Lakewood Community Park, and is expected to last four hours.

“The overarching goal is to be sure that our policies and procedures work together with the Coast Guard’s procedures,” said Julius J. Leone Jr., director of the Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services. “So if we have to affect a rescue such as this – whether it be on Chautauqua Lake or Lake Erie – we’re able to work together … and have all (procedural issues) already fleshed out.”

The drill, which is the culmination of more than six months of planning between the Coast Guard and local officials, centers around a disaster scenario in which a plane carrying 54 passengers stalls due to icing and crashes into Chautauqua Lake by the Lakewood shoreline, killing 24 and injuring 30.

Members of the Coast Guard will pose as “victims,” requiring rescue, and dive teams will go into the water to mark evidence. Fifteen to 20 ambulances will also be on the scene as well as heavy-rescue units, firetrucks and Starflight.

“On this scale, I don’t think we’ve done anything like this before,” Leone said. “There’s going to be a number of agencies involved with this … the New York State Office of Emergency Management, the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the coroner staff, WCA Hospital, the American Red Cross and airport officials. It’s local, state and federal.”

Lakewood Fire Chief Kurt Hallberg will be the “incident commander” of the drill.

“In a real-life scenario, (the Lakewood Fire Department) would be the first ones on the scene before we could call the Coast Guard or any other federal agency to come and assist us,” Hallberg said. “So we’re taking the lead in the triage and treatment of everybody.”

Though Hallberg is aware of possible “hiccups” that may occur during the drill, he said he is confident that the overall exercise will be a good learning experience, one in which everyone from command to paramedics to coroners will take something away.

According to Leone, the Coast Guard has conducted similar exercises on the other Great Lakes, but chose Chautauqua Lake over Lake Erie because of the good ice conditions.

“We’re holding this on Chautauqua Lake, but we should be able to (carry out a similar rescue) on Lake Erie,” Leone said. “We’ll be using the same resources, and operating with the same players.”

Lakeside Boulevard at Jackson Avenue will be closed off as well as West Terrace Avenue at Fairdale Avenue during the drill, according to the Lakewood Fire Department.