Buffalo radio station WBEN-930AM listeners have overwhelming chosen the first responders to the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Clarence Center, NY on February 12, 2009 as their “Persons-of-the-Year.”
READ THE FULL STORY:
It’s been almost a year since the crash and I haven’t shared this personal story yet, but this is probably a good time to do so:
The night of the crash I was watching a movie with my 16-year old son Alex when my alpha-pager went off, as it does pretty frequently in our business. Thinking it was possibly another administrative message or perhaps a more routine event, I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading when I looked at my pager that told me: “Alert 3: Plane crash into a house.”
My kids will verify that we rarely swear in front of them. Foul language is unacceptable in our house. My involuntary response to the pager message was: “Holy S***!” Alex immediately sensed something and asked me “What’s wrong Dad?”
I said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this but… I’m going to a plane crash.” I grabbed my laptop backpack and my go-bag for extended deployments and headed out the door.
When I arroved on scene I thought from what I saw that the entire neighborhood was burning — but it wasn’t. The fire was contained to just one house, one property.
The plane came down and the fire went straight up. The house “absorbed” the entire plane. That’s the only way I can describe what I saw.
It barely touched the homes on either side. It was truly amazing. I credit that to the leadership and proficiency of the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Company and their mutual aid partners.
The dedication demonstrated in their search and suppression efforts would be matched over the next week by the commitment of their ladies auxiliary in feeding and caring for more than 500 responders for three meals a day, for eight days straight.
Their sense of purpose permeated to the more than 1,200 first responders and emergency response professionals involved in the recovery effort that brought this small 100-year old community back to some sense of at least physical normalcy, in an astonishing eleven days.
I credit Clarence Center Chief Dave Case with literally saving the lives of his people. As suppression efforts were winding down he made the conscious decision to not involve his firefighters in the recovery process. Not that they weren’t capable of coping with it, but the plane landed just a few doors down from their firehouse, just over 700 ft. away.
Their mission was personal. As I’ve said many times while making presentations about this event, “It’s not like this plane was flying from Newark to Chicago and dropped out of the sky in Clarence Center. It was flying from Newark to Clarence Center.” There were few folks involved in the operation who didn’t have a personal connection to the crash, who weren’t somehow affected.
Thus, the “Three-Cs” of: Coordination, Communication and Cooperation were enhanced and enveloped by what I call the Fourth-C: “Community. ”
The Clarence and Western New York community rallied around those lost in the crash, those who suffered loss and those who cared for everyone affected by this tremendous tragedy. The outpouring was overwhelming but not unpredictable for this close-knit and resilient community.
As one federal official — a former resident of the area — shared with me at the scene, “I told my mother I was going to Buffalo because there’d been a plane crash. She responded by telling me that I would experience two things: ‘You’ll get all the cooperation you need… and you’ll be fed really well.’ She was right on both counts.”
Although there are many aspects of this experience that I cannot share in this forum, I just want to congratulate all those involved in the daunting response and recovery effort.
While still a horrible disaster with reminders that will loom in our community for a very long time, this recognition is a well deserved honor nonetheless. You have much to be proud of and I am proud to serve with you.
Stay safe. Train often.
From TigerSchmittendorf.com —
From FirefighterNation —