Large-scale emergency training for Tucson first responders

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Anyone in Tucson Tuesday had a good chance of hearing the rumblings of military choppers as the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base conducted mock rescue missions in mid-town.

The "Angel Thunder" exercise prepares local first responders for large-scale emergencies.

"There's a unified effort, everyone understands where to go and how to get there.  Immediate action and minutes count when you're looking at saving lives," said Capt. Jeff Lehmkuhl from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Air force members, medical specialists and more than a dozen local and federal agencies responded to a mock earthquake that left forty fake patients injured.

"Just like you see in the movies.  Before we took them out as survivors, we took them down to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and put fake wounds on them, sucking chest wounds, we've got fractures," said Capt. Lehmkuhl.

An emergency with multiple people hurt, it was an unfortunate reality for Tucson on January 8.

The UMC trauma chief who treated Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords says the time from tragedy to treatment is crucial.

"Vitally important that we really play it all the way through as if it's real because the timing and the logistics are much more important than the actual care we give," said UMC Chief of Trauma Dr. Peter Rhee.

Patients came into the ER by air and by ground, one or two at a time, and Tuesday's coordinated effort helps every team player to work out the kinks.

"We're already finding things that we can improve on.  You can win the Super Bowl but the coaches will always see things that they need to improve for the following year," said Dr. Rhee.

"This gives us the ability to train and equip and then also to take our airmen and throw them into that combat mission," said Lehmkuhl.

The agencies plan to compare notes and find out how they can strengthen service in major emergencies.

Angel Thunder is in it's fifth year but this is the first year that University Medical Center participated in the drill. A total of 14 agencies participated.