OTTUMWA — Twenty emergency personnel from 11 different departments responded to an incident near the 4300 block of 165th street Tuesday morning.
There were people present from the Agency and Hedrick fire departments, Wapello County Rural Fire, the Wapello Sheriff’s Department, Ottumwa EMS, and others. A drone buzzed above it all, watching and recording.
Everything about the incident was textbook — except for the fact no accident had taken place. It was all part of a training exercise.
“It’s a good time to get together and bounce ideas off each other,” said Brad Lauderman, traffic operations technician with the Iowa Department of Transportation. “It’s something we’re trying to promote here in Southeast Iowa.”
The training was led by the Ottumwa Multi-Disciplinary Safety Team, a group of state-certified traffic incident management trainers from around Southeast Iowa. It consists of Lauderman, State Patrolman Jeremy Andreasen, and Officer Michael Davidson with the DOT’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement. The group is headed by Tim Richmond, Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator.
Tuesday’s exercise served two functions. First, it gave the personnel involved a chance to practice their skills in a safe and controlled setting. But the session was also being used to craft a new training video for the DOT’s Traffic Incident Training program, a four-hour course the department provides to any emergency service agency for free.
Instructors leading the course in the past found that some participants complained about the training videos they used. The old videos had been recorded in places like Texas or Chicago, and some said they didn’t provide a good representation of emergency response in rural Iowa. So the video being shot Tuesday used a real rural road and real rural response teams.
“We wanted to bring this and say: this is rural Iowa. This is what we do. Then our audience can relate to it,” Lauderman said.
Richmond flew a drone above the scene, recording everything as it unfolded. Meanwhile, Lauderman gave orders through a walkie-talkie, guiding the participants like a film director.
“Come in slow, like you’re just coming up on the scene,” he said through the radio as a Motor Vehicle Enforcement officer drove toward the simulated accident.
The exercise was staged on a stretch of road about 1,000 feet long. There was a staging area at one end, where the vehicles waited for their turn to approach the scene of the “accident” at the other end. Richmond and Lauderman were positioned halfway — close enough to observe, but far enough to be removed from the shot.
The team ran through four scenarios from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., each one slightly varied from the others. Some were drawn from a DOT handbook while others were done according to how the local agencies would have actually responded. The last one of the day was a simulated four-lane accident, which required special road markings to be put down.
Everything was executed like clockwork as first responders approached and DOT personnel came to place lights and signs redirecting traffic. Then secondary responders and a truck from Ottumwa-based Deran’s Towing and Recovery joined the scene. It wasn’t long before the road was filled with emergency vehicles.
Apart from a few joking complaints about how hot their safety vests could be, everybody on scene was professional and focused on the task at hand.
“It’s all about keeping people safe,” Lauderman explained. “The DOT is for traffic control, Motor Vehicle Enforcement is there for semi accidents, and then of course there’s highway patrol. Everybody has their specialty and it really works well when we come together to make it happen.”
Although it was the first training session of its kind to be conducted in the area, Lauderman was pleased with how the day had gone and thanked everyone involved.
“We appreciate the County Road Department and the County Engineer for letting us have this section of road for training purposes,” he said.
Lauderman also extended a thank you to all participating agencies. Apart from those mentioned, Eldon Fire and Rescue and Wapello County Emergency Management Agency were also present.