It looked like the real thing but it was all practice on the grounds of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Thursday.
The scenario: A tornado overturned a yellow school bus standing on its side in a museum parking lot. Dozens of people were stretched out on the ground, injured and waiting for help, while firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians scramble.
An injured woman ran frantically and screamed, “I want my baby, I want him now” as she charged and struggled to break free of two police officers’ grip.
A man sprawled out in the branches of a pine tree moaned in pain.
The volunteers’ acting and realistic-looking injuries were meant to test how first responders react.
Wright-Patterson was in the midst of a weeklong exercise to evaluate how well military and civilian employees handle scenarios as varied as an incident of air piracy to how to deal with mass casualties, according to base Deputy Fire Chief Tracy Young.
“You have to create a level of realism” to develop an instinctive reaction in first responders, Young said. “ … You can only learn so much from a text book.”
The scenario wasn’t far from reality. Last June, a sudden summer storm with high winds raked the grounds of the museum just before festivities began at Freedom’s Call Military Tattoo which draws a crowd of tens of thousands. The storm injured 16 attendees, six of whom were taken to area hospitals, and strong winds tilted a metal support column for a performance stage.
Young said responders learned lessons from that experience and practice frequently to prepare for emergencies.
Staci Scearce, 46, an Air Force Materiel Command civilian employee, played the role of an injured woman screaming for her child trapped under the bus.
“When you talk about my kids, or my grandkids, get out of my way,” she later joked.
She sported a fake bloody gash on her left arm. A 29-year employee and veteran of four base exercises had this time struggled with two police officers who tackled her. They briefly handcuffed her hands behind her back. “They asked me to give some of them a hard time,” she said. “That’s what I did.”
Air Force 2nd Lt. Robert Edwards, 23, a National Air and Space Intelligence geospatial analysis officer, wore the same camouflage uniform he had as a member of the cadet corps at Virginia Tech, the site where a gunman killed 33 people in April 2007. Edwards said what happened at his alma mater was a contributing factor to why he volunteered for the exercise.
“Naturally, readiness and emergency preparedness means a lot to me coming from Virginia Tech,” he said. “Getting ready for emergencies and practicing like you play means something to me.”