APEX 2010

Ronald Reagan International Airport, late morning. A 747 approaches runway 33 for a landing from the southeast. At the last second, an engine cuts out and a bad gust torques the left wing upward. The plane tumbled off-balance as the wheels touched down at an awkward angle. Smoking for the briefest of seconds, they snapped and disappeared under the body as the nose began its arcing path towards the ground. Just before the faded gray of the runway destroyed the windshield, the pilot glimpsed what lay not far ahead in a lush green enclave: the river.

Now in two sections, the fuselage tore through the airport’s chain-link fence like tissue paper. A net of twisted metal dragged across the GW Parkway, startling the lucky motorists and dragging the unlucky into the water. The remainder of the plane slid to a stop amidst stunned onlookers, burning neatly in the middle of the six-lane highway.


The scenario was a grisly one, for sure. However, anything that simulates the need for DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and several other surrounding jurisdictions in addition to the massive crash trucks kind of has to be.

I counted myself fortunate that I was able to make it; that Saturday wasn’t a normal shift for me. I was working a trade at Engine 33, home of several pieces of Mass-Casualty-related apparatus, and so was with one of the few companies who attended the drill from DCFD.

We were joined by quite a few agencies…

…even some of the big-league players.

Several Mass-Casualty Apparatus (apparati?) were set up near the treatment area; per MC Incident guidelines, each category of patient (red/yellow/green/black) had a colored tarp onto which patients were carried.

For part of the drill, I transported a red-tagged patient (flail chest, altered level of consciousness, okay-ish vital signs) to Arlington Hospital. They were actors, of course—but many of them were quite dedicated to their patient descriptions. I see daytime soap opera roles in many of their futures!

The “wreckage.” The airport FFs were the ones extinguishing this while we all waited in the staging area.


All in all, the drill took maybe five hours. If I recall correctly, there were a few dozen patients to be triaged and transported. Afterward, the organizers were nice enough to feed us Potbelly sammiches, and then we returned to DC. Eight years ago, I was at another inter-agency drill at Dulles Airport. Both were pretty cool—I don’t get much exposure to airport firefighting stuff unless I see one of the trucks as I taxi down the runway when flying. Pretty cool to hang out in one of the stations—much thanks to MWAA, Reagan National/DCA, and all the other agencies that made this a well-put together drill!


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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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