The sound of an explosion rocked the abandoned Olympic hotel on Mount Igman, then as smoke billowed from the empty windows, voices screaming in panic cut through the warning sirens; thankfully this was all part of a training exercise with Red Cross volunteers playing the part of injured teenagers on Sunday 28 April.
The Civil Protection Agency Novi Grad Sarajevo and Gorska Služba Spašavanja (GSS - Mountain Rescue Service Novi Grad Sarajevo) were two of 7 organisations providing over 40 personnel to run the exercise; EUFOR contributed a Bell 212 helicopter to provide emergency evacuation support.
When asked about the exercise, Boris Riderle of the Civil Protection Agency said: "This exercise involves a complex simulated situation with fire, a partially collapsed building, and a variety of casualties; it requires the Civil Protection Agency to set up an operations centre to co-ordinate the rescue activities".
Rescues from height, dozens of people moving around the area, and a chorus of noise from screams and sirens portrayed a potentially confusing situation for onlookers; but the focus and professionalism of the people involved was clearly visible on their faces throughout the exercise.
Due to the scenario of a collapsed stairwell, a set of ropes was set up stretching almost 100m and up to a height of nearly 20m; this allowed individuals to sit in a basket chair so they could be carefully lowered to the ground.
In charge of the rope rescue was Igor Ptoćnik from the Slovenian Mountain Rescue Service:
"We have been co-operating with the GSS Novi Grad Sarajevo for 2 years, this exercise gives us the chance to share knowledge on techniques like the high rope rescue method".
The scenario involved volunteer first responders treating burns, broken bones, and smoke inhalation; young volunteers from the Red Cross acted their part with realistic screams of pain, enhanced by make-up which included smoke/soot on their faces, burns on their arms and broken bones sticking through their skin.
Volunteer Emina Divobić was a victim of facial burns and smoke, commenting on the exercise she said:
"Some of us have just finished our training, acting the part and screaming in pain created pressure and really adds to the realism for everyone".
Observing the exercise was Major General Martin Dorfer, COMEUFOR, commenting on the support of the helicopter in the exercise, he said
"EUFOR is proud to support this exercise; it is an important piece of collective training for all the agencies so they can display their ability to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina".
EUFOR's helicopter was used to evacuate casualties from the roof of the hotel, in the scenario 2 people were were "too badly injured" to be moved through the building; the helicopter crew were able to use a winch to lower a stretcher before moving a short distance to a waiting ambulance.
At the end of the exercise there was a short clean-up and head-count; once all the equipment had been gathered there were smiles all round on the conclusion of a successful, and safely executed, exercise.