Just minutes after hearing that an airplane had crash-landed and burst into flames at San Francisco International Airport Saturday, hundreds of San Mateo County fire and emergency medical responders were called into action.
The county’s fire mutual aid leaders immediately initiated a first-alarm response, which is the typical response to an emergency at SFO. After gauging the magnitude of the disaster, the county fire departments then activated a three-alarm response. Ron Myers, fire chief for the North County Fire Authority and Fire Mutual Aid coordinator, couldn’t remember the last time there was a three-alarm response at SFO.
“It’s been many years since that there’s been an incident at that airport,” said Myers.
“We’re pretty attuned to knowing what we needed to do, we’ve just never had to actually do it until Saturday.”
The county sent four battalion chiefs, four ladder trucks, 11 fire engines and four fireboats to SFO, mostly from departments in northern and central San Mateo County.
“[But] pretty much everybody in the fire department and the county participated,” said Myers, adding that fire departments from all over the county filled in the missing resources at stations that sent trucks to the airport.
The 70 people from various fire departments helped with fire rescue and patient care at the scene. Myers was happy with the fire department’s response to an extreme emergency.
“You’re always going to have a chaotic scene, but everyone did really well,” he said.
The next day, the county’s mutual fire aid was activated again for a six-alarm fire in Redwood City.
The county was able to provide fire resources for both incidents and maintain regular coverage without needing to call in help from other counties, said Myers.
San Mateo County American Medical Response sent more than 100 paramedics, emergency medical technicians and support staff to the scene of the crash Saturday.
“We’ve never been so proud of the care and compassion of our caregivers,” said Brad White, general manager of AMR of San Mateo County.
Five AMR ambulances already on duty were sent to SFO, and another 12 ambulances were activated as part of AMR’s emergency response team, said White.
Many of the responders were off-duty employees who carry pagers in case of emergencies.
“We have a really, really solid group of employees who are ready to respond,” he said, adding that many of the caretakers who whipped into action Saturday also responded to San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that left eight people dead in 2010.
“As tragic as that was, it helped us prepare for this disaster,” he said.
AMR transported a total 103 patients Saturday. Its first ambulance arrived at the scene of the crash five minutes after receiving the initial emergency dispatch call at 11:29 a.m. on Saturday, said White.
The emergency response team for San Mateo County performs its own drills monthly and runs drills in conjunction with SFO and South San Francisco firefighters annually, said White.
“Those drills are critical for being prepared for these kinds of things,” said White. “There’s a tremendous partnership in San Mateo County of all emergency service providers.”
AMR in San Mateo County is the first AMR response team to be called upon in the event of an emergency at SFO. On Saturday, AMR activated another 21 ambulances from San Francisco, Marin, Napa and Contra Costa counties.