To The Rescue

LAKEWOOD – Mission accomplished.

In an elaborate display of planning, coordination and execution, first responders and emergency officials from nearly every conceivable agency joined together Saturday to rescue more than 40 mock “victims” of a staged plane crash on Chautauqua Lake.

The drill, which began at approximately 8:45 a.m., saw personnel racing onto the frozen lake by ice/water boats and extracting victims (some of which were dummies, others were U.S. Coast Guard personnel) from a faux-plane, which-according to the scenario-crashed due to icing shortly after takeoff.

Victims retrieved were shuffled into ambulances and caught only a glimpse of the makeshift operations center that occupied the shoreline, complete with warming tents, food and water from the American Red Cross, hazmat control and a command post that oversaw the entire operation through various monitors.

Lakewood Fire Chief Kurt Hallberg, who was designated the “incident commander” because of his department’s proximity to the disaster, contacted the county dispatch in Mayville shortly after the simulated crash occurred.

Responders included 18 fire departments, various EMS and police officials, WCA Hospital, the coroner’s office and staff from the Chautauqua County Airport.

Indeed, though the scene was hectic and filled with a dizzying array of uniforms, the drill remained remarkably focused, pulsing with a palpable sense of urgency that no doubt fulfilled its intent of strengthening emergency response integration.

The drill concluded shortly before noon.

“I’ve never been involved in anything as big as this,” said John Griffith, 4th battalion fire coordinator for Chautauqua County. “Because we had the federal government involved, it was truly amazing. The things they could teach us … and some of the resources they brought were just fantastic.”

One of these resources, of course, was a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, which performed three victim extractions during the drill.

The Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services was also assisted by the Coast Guard in the use of the Incident Command System, a standardized emergency response system which aids in the integration of federal, state and local resources and personnel.

Dignitaries at the event included state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-C-I-Jamestown, and County Executive Vince Horrigan, all of whom were impressed with the results.

“This was truly a remarkable event,” Horrigan said. “You can bring a lot of people and a lot of equipment together, but unless it’s coordinated and integrated, you don’t get the effectiveness. That’s what this is all about. We want to respond effectively to where we can take care of people in the most efficient way possible to save lives and save property … so I’m very impressed by this, it’s truly amazing.”

The drill was the culmination of five months of planning between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services.

According to Julius J. Leone Jr., director of the Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services, the Coast Guard had conducted similar drills on the other Great Lakes. Chautauqua Lake was chosen over Lake Erie because of its good ice conditions.

The personnel and resources used during this drill would likely be the same if such a disaster were to occur on Lake Erie, Leone said.