HOUGHTON — Five Upper Peninsula airports and seven Copper Country fire departments took part in a training day at the Houghton County Memorial Airport.

What if a plane crashed at the Houghton County Memorial Airport and to make matters worse, a second plane went down because it was unable to land because of it? That was the scenario played out yesterday as emergency response crews trained to handle such a situation.

Local fire departments go through this type of training every three years while airport personnel go through it annually. Crews from all five regional airports were at this year’s training in Houghton County.

“What we do on an annual basis is we come out and we get all of our staff that are ARFF trained recurrent training so they can kind of dust off their skills and work with an ARFF specialist to be prepared for a possible accident or incident,” said Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane DuRay.

In this scenario a level three alert is issued which calls all seven local fire departments to the airport. Airport personnel have to be ready because they will be the first on scene in case of an accident. It’s their job to save as many lives as possible while emergency crews are in route. Then local fireman, many of them volunteers begin battling the blaze while others try and help the survivors. Having a mock airplane makes the training more realistic.

“What the Trainer does for us as a community, it allows us to take our people and put them in reality–based training,” said Wade Boyat of Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Specialists. “No longer, probably, do we have to pretend that a bus is an airplane and expect our first responders to react to it. Now we have an airplane that not only looks but reacts like an aircraft and the idea behind it that we can burn it, smoke it, we can have it scream at you and all the time we’re doing that, it’s a safe environment for people to do their training.”

Since the runway is unusable the training scenario reports that a second plane went down in the woods nearby because it could not land and ran out of gas on its way to K.I. Sawyer. A Civil Air Patrol plane takes to the air to assist in the search for the down aircraft. Ground crews stand at the ready to respond as soon as the aircraft is found. In the dense woods of Baraga County the small plane is spotted. One soul is reported to have been in the plane; his condition unknown. The coordinates are relayed to the ground crew who head out to the spot in hopes of finding someone alive.

Training like this can be expensive. Michigan Bureau of Aeronautics gives a $2,000 grant to help fund the annual training which can run as high as $7,000 a day and the regional airports then split that cost. Ferrellgas donated all the propane for the event, which saves at least another $1,000.