Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rescuers rehearse plane disaster in Rockland County, New York

PIERMONT — The call came in over the radio slightly before noon Saturday: a 747 en route to La Guardia had crashed into the Piermont Pier, spewing debris into parked cars before breaking apart in the Hudson River. 

The 300 or more emergency workers had been standing ready since 10 a.m. and moved out as if the disaster was real: firetrucks, ambulances and police cars all heading for the end of the pier to find small fires burning, people crammed into wrecked cars and more people in life jackets bobbing in the water.

“It’s a drill, a simulated plane crash into Piermont Pier to bring all the companies together to see how each team works,” said Daniel W. Goswick Jr., captain of the Piermont Fire Department and the creator of the drill.

“We conducted this drill in ’97. What we did this time was to switch it up a little bit: more people than last time, drowning victims, cars crushed, people trapped in them, people on the ground,” he said. “It’s to prepare our guys and (give) practice for our dive team.”

Goswick spent six months crafting the drill, inviting five other fire departments, four dive teams, eight marine units, 12 ambulances, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office and the Westchester County Department of Public Safety. Teams came from Oradell, N.J., and from Tarrytown and Irvington, as well as Piermont, Orangetown, Nyack, Thiells, Sparkill and Tappan.

It’s not that the emergency workers haven’t had water disasters. Piermont was one of the departments sent out three weeks ago when a boat slammed into a moored construction barge at night, killing two.

This drill had its casualties, but they were all simulated, including four “victims” that had to be dragged up from inside and around a steel pipe that had been submerged off the pier to simulate the plane’s fuselage. Placing the pipe had caused the exercise to begin nearly an hour late, as the crane rig from Stiloski’s towing, which operates in Valley Cottage and Tarrytown, was too big.

A smaller one that fit on the pier was dispatched.

“It’s great for intermunicipal fire department communications,” said Frank Morabito, deputy chief of the Tarrytown Fire Department, who, along with former chief Ray Artus, was part of the drill. “We’ll do these as often as we can get them. It speeds things up, getting to know each team, how they operate.”

By the time the drill wound down about 1:30 p.m., the 25 “victims” recovered and those in dire straits sent away by ambulance, crews gave each other thumbs up and went back to the Piermont Firehouse for burgers and soda.

“It was an awesome, good experience, all these people coming together,” said EMS Lt. Hope Goswick, the fire captain’s sister, who coordinated emergency medical operations for the drill.

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