formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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May 6, 2008 Liberty Fire Department gets disaster drill training

The Liberty Gazette
May 6, 2008

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Liberty Fire Department’s Assistant Chief, Brian Hurst, and Fire Marshall, Sean Matula, went to Bush-Intercontinental Airport (IAH) for a taste of what it would be like to respond to a mass casualty incident. Invited to the Tri-Annual Disaster Drill at IAH, Hurst and Matula joined hundreds of other volunteers in the mock disaster. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Brian and Sean about disasters, training, and the importance of airports.

“This kind of training is good because we get very little practice on how to handle any type of mass-casualty incident,” offered Brian Hurst. “I hadn’t thought much about it before, but in the event of a catastrophe, our resources would be taxed beyond capacity. In this drill we learned a lot about how to handle such a scenario.”

Sean Matula added that “This scenario was on a scale much larger than you might expect to see in a small town, but the processes we learned would be the same.”

The men were assigned to a Houston Fire Department Junior Captain, who had them observing and critiquing, and learning how a streamlined response to a disaster works. Both men called the drill a big operation that at first appeared to be mass chaos – volunteers acted as victims and there was lots of shouting and confusion to make the scene realistic – but once they learned the set-up and began to watch the process, they were amazed at how well it went.

“All ranks participated, from Chief all the way down,” explained Matula, who was also impressed with the incident management system that such a chaotic scenario was handled so smoothly. “We saw that we are not the only ones with manpower problems.” With only six paid staff, the point was driven home that responders’ plans should include an immediate call for mutual aid, rather than waiting to assess the scene.

Brian Hurst added “That was one of the things that was really key to getting triage, rehab, operations, and transport sections up and moving quickly; call for help at the start. You can always turn them back later if you don’t need them.”

He says the drill also gives them justification for more paid staff, equipment, and training. “Here in Liberty we’re fortunate to have a paid fire department; we’re stationed here, reducing response time, increasing survivability.”

“It was a very interesting day,” Brian told me, “we had a good time learning, took away a lot of information, and were just left with ‘Wow.’”

Mike: While this disaster drill makes use of a large jet airliner, a catastrophic event could come in many different forms. The point of the drill is to keep responders current on skills and tactics, increasing victims’ chances to survive. The Houston airport provides a great place to train emergency responders, and based on the men’s reaction to the drill, I’d say this is another huge potential asset we can add to the list of good things about having an airport here in Liberty.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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