The Good Friday 2012 crash of a Navy fighter into a Virginia Beach apartment complex remains a fresh memory — and was, once again, a case study Monday for some Naval Air Station Oceana training with Virginia Beach and Chesapeake first responders.
While the Navy’s firefighters and city emergency workers gather every couple of years for a refresher, this year’s training included something new, in addition to an in-depth review of the 2012 accident.
This spring and summer, Oceana will be hosting Navy E-2C Hawkeyes — the early warning turboprops with the saucer-shaped radar dome on top of their fuselages — as well as the C-2 Greyhounds that carry supplies and personnel to aircraft carriers at sea. They, like the fighters that always operate at Oceana, pose unfamiliar challenges to city emergency workers.
“It’s like a car accident, with a lot of extra stuff,” said Kenneth Snyder, assistant fire chief with the Navy’s regional fire and emergency services department.
There are hazards that firefighters don’t ordinarily face, notably aviation fuel and composite materials inside the planes, Snyder said.
There’s the layout and structure of military aircraft to learn, as well.
The training includes table-top exercises to test that communications links are working, as well as what and who to send where in response to accident.
In 2012, years of the Navy’s training with city counterparts meant a rapid response to contain fire, as well as setting up an incident command center in a nearby hospital emergency room and a decontamination tent in case people were covered in jet fuel. In the event, it wasn’t needed. There were no fatalities and only minor injuries and a handful of smoke inhalation cases in 2012.
In addition to the tabletops, the cities’ first responders had a chance to get up close to aircraft, including clambering aboard a C-2, to get a sense of the tight spaces inside.
“It’s always a good thing to know what you’re facing before you face it,” said Virginia Beach firefighter John Mason.
It wasn’t all lectures, review of the past and learning about what the Navy thinks, either.
“We had a chance to do some brainstorming, thinking about how to cope with incidents,” said Navy firefighter Marcus Bell, who said he got a lot out of his sessions with the cities’ emergency workers.
“It’s how you build teamwork,” he added.
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