Airport holds mandated disaster response exercise

BROWNSVILLE — The Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport held an emergency response exercise Friday in which rescue crews responded to the call of a downed aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration mandates U.S. airports conduct these exercises every 36 months to help prepare in the event of a real disaster.

The airport on Friday created a scenario in which an ERJ-145 aircraft was experiencing issues and crashed into airport grounds.

“It’s required to ensure that we as an airport, in coordination with all the partnering agencies, are prepared to respond to an emergency of this nature,” Brownsville Public Information Officer Roxanna Rosas said.

Aviation Director Bryant Walker said emergency personnel need to respond within two minutes if an incident like the one they practiced were to occur.

“If an (incident) happens at the airport, like an aircraft disaster or similar to that, our (Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting) unit, which is based at the airport, responds,” Walker said. “They have certain metrics to hit. They do have to be on within two minutes since it’s an FAA requirement, and then there are various other response times to meet.”

Walker said ARFF would stabilize the situation, set an instant command post and receive aid from cities near Brownsville.

When an aircraft incident occurs, federal agencies such as the FAA, the Transportation Security Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are involved.

Walker said every airplane is inspected for safety concerns before it takes off.

“Every single aircraft before flight is required to be inspected by the flight crew,” Walker said.

Assistant Fire Chief Cesar Pedraza said there is a fire station on airport grounds, and it is certified through the FAA.

“We have simulated drills every so often as well as day-to-day training that keep the personnel up to date on procedures, techniques and standard operating procedures,” Pedraza said.

Pedraza said extinguishing a fire on a burning aircraft requires a different procedure than that of a burning building because of the aircraft’s jet fuel.

“That’s why the airport rescue firefighters have specialized training that’s authorized through the FAA,” Pedraza said. “Airport fires and crashes deal with fuel fires, and the way we typically fight fuel fires is by applying foaming agents that tend to smother the fuel as opposed to structural fires, which would typically use water only.”