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Collin Hosted Emergency Preparation and Fire Drills in McKinney

July 8, 2006 -- In the early evening hours, anyone near Central Park Campus in McKinney may have noticed a lot of activity as fire trucks and equipment from all across Collin County gathered in the campus parking lot. The message from Pat McAuliff, director of fire science and emergency medical services at Collin County Community College (Collin): "Relax, it's only a drill!"

Collin hosted emergency preparation and fire drills in campus parking lots through July 7. Each drill involved 40-50 firefighters operating 10-14 pieces of emergency equipment--from pump trucks to hook-and-ladder assemblies.

Six area fire departments participated in the drills: Carrollton, The Colony, McKinney, Plano, Prosper and Richardson. Each of these departments practiced working together at major incidents, such as tornados, terrorist attacks or conflagrations (a large fire extending beyond natural- or man-made barriers, like a wildfire).

Area fire chiefs, recognizing the value of this opportunity for combined training, contributed a portion of their on-duty crews to participate in the four-hour drills.

"Not too many years ago, the thought of combined agency training, especially among those that are miles apart, was considered unnecessary," McAuliff said. "But in the past year, we have seen more inter-agency responses in Collin County and throughout the state of Texas than ever before. Fire service leaders are recognizing the value of multi-agency drills--even with cities that do not share a common city limit line."

Each drill, slightly different in nature, was designed to challenge incident commanders to organize a response plan to various scenarios--gas leaks, structure fires, high-angle rescues, building collapse, vehicle accidents with trapped victims, and/or hazardous material leaks or spills--two or more of which happened at the same time.

The college hosted emergency preparation and fire drills in campus parking lots recently. Six area fire departments participated in the drills: Carrollton, The Colony, McKinney, Plano, Prosper and Richardson. The departments practiced working together during mock disaster incidents, such as tornados, terrorist attacks or wildfires. Each drill involved 40-50 firefighters operating 10-14 pieces of emergency equipment--from pump trucks to hook-and-ladder assemblies.

Challengingly, little information was provided to responding crews, forcing them to communicate with one another using every means available, from post-it notes to multi-band radios.

"In some cases, we discovered that radios from different cities were not compatible, thus making communications extremely difficult," McAuliff said. "Technology is wonderful and essential in our day-to-day operations, but in real disasters there may be that moment when you have to improvise to get the job done. These drills were designed to challenge the responders to look for a variety of solutions and not take everything for granted."

Working together is not only a nicety, but a necessity when it comes to responding to emergency situations.

"I am very proud of our instructors and staff for making these drills a success," McAuliff said. "It is clear that the many hours of planning and coordination have paid off, not only for the participants but, more importantly, for the citizens of these communities."

For program information, contact Collin's Fire Science Department 972.548.6836.