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16 February 2009

On Scene

As some of you know, I live in Buffalo, NY. As some of you also know I am in training to be an emergency medicine physician. I have talked about my adventures in the emergency departments of our local hospitals, and I have talked about being a part of SMART (Specialized Medical Assistance Response Team) for Erie County. We provide medical support as part of the public health and emergency response systems. We were called to action on Thursday night.

I wasn't able to go to the scene that night, but several of my colleagues did. The next day a new shift of my colleagues went to the scene. And, on Saturday, a colleague and I did. We are there to provide medical support to the hundreds of investigators, evidence collectors, workers, and firemen who are helping with the scene.

As I arrived I thought it would be bigger; larger, somehow. As I walked down Long Street I kept trying to see it. Sure, there were a line of emergency vehicles parked on the street, but still. As I tried to figure out where I was going to meet my colleague, I spotted one of our emergency trailers so I kept walking up the street. And, suddenly, there it was.

They had not been able to begin work the day before because hot spots were still being put out. Suddenly I saw the potential dangers for the workers: large and small twisted pieces of metal, pieces of wood with nails, potential sinkholes, cinder blocks that could potentially trip someone, etc. We made arrangements to be able to administer tetanus shots. We checked our suture materials. We made sure we would be able to arrange for follow-up.

And, so there I was, in the midst of the scene, starting to hear the stories.

I spent the first part of my morning surrounded by the team from the medical examiner's office, and I heard all of their plans for the day. I spent time in their tent. I watched their work.

One of the firefighters from the Buffalo Niagara Fire Department was sitting in his firetruck at the top of the scene where an airport fire truck had sat every night since the accident. I had met him during an exercise almost a year ago, and he waved when he saw me. I spent some time with him as he told me the stories related by the firefighters.

I met members of the FBI and local law. I listened to NTSB and FAA officials as they collected their evidence. Everyone wanted to talk. Everyone wanted to do more.

I was there as support, but I also watched a group of people come together and work for a common somber goal. I watched their painstaking work. I watched the respect with which each victim was handled. Suddenly, I felt the enormity of the situation. And, the scene didn't seem so small after all.


Lisa said...

I DID think of you as soon as I heard about this crash. I wondered if you were close and were at the scene at all. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, as always a very interesting read. Such a tragic event. Be safe out there if you go again.

ADB said...

It brings it closer to home to read the account of someone on the ground. I wish you strength.

Claudia's thoughts said...

i have never worked on a disaster scene or with disaster victims. But I can imagine the whole night was sureal and things going in slow motion.

Anonymous said...

wow.... you had it tough!