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Crash illustrates coordinated response - Gazette - 07/13/2006


Crash illustrates coordinated response to injuries, 4 hurt in Williamsburg accident

Rescue workers from half a dozen Hilltowns work with hydraulic tools to free the passengers trapped Tuesday in a car that crashed on Petticoat Hill Road in Williamsburg.


Used by permission.  Copyright GazetteNET.com


WILLIAMSBURG - Almost every day in Hampshire County, emergency personnel must to work together to help save lives, minimize damage and secure accident, fire and crime scenes.

They did so again Tuesday. Around 6:30 p.m. that day in Williamsburg, a speeding Ford Mustang with four young male occupants flipped over and struck a utility pole. The accident pinned the driver in his seat. It took over an hour of work and nearly 20 emergency personnel workers to remove him.

At the scene, men and women crawled around and over the car, removing piece by piece parts that had pinned the legs of 20-year-old Shawn Robbins underneath the dashboard.

For crews in smaller towns, what was the key Tuesday to successfully getting the young man out and on his way to a hospital, along with the other three passengers?

'Mutual aid,' said Williamsburg Fire Chief Donald Lawton. 'With mutual aid we can do so much together. Without it, we'd be sinking alone.'

According to Lawton, most people involved in the Hilltown emergency response business, whether it be fire personnel or EMTs, train together once a week and are all familiar with one another due to the tight-knit communities they live in.

'Everybody knows everybody,' said Lawton. 'Individually, we're all very close.'

'We don't practice this type of mass casualty,' Goshen firefighter Robert Labrie said of Tuesday's accident. 'But we've all known each other for years through mutual aid, muster and training.'

Labrie said that with all the personnel on hand Tuesday night, an impressive level of communication and coordination was on display. No one was getting in anyone else's way.

'From my perspective, what I saw last night was several departments working together in a coordinated effort to get the injured parties out of the car,' he said in an email message Wednesday. 'Everyone on the scene applied their individual strengths to team up and get those kids to safety.'

'That's what we do, and when we do it right, it's a good feeling,' he said.

Once a call comes in, an incident command system is established, according to Northampton Fire Department Capt. Mark Curtin.

From that command system come all orders, so when a truck or ambulance arrives on the scene, personnel already have an idea what is happening and what they will be asked to do.

'You have to know who's in charge and what their plan is,' said Curtin. 'You need somebody who's in charge and to delegate, usually the highest-ranking officer.'

For Highland Ambulance, which serves the Hilltowns, that command system is indispensable.

'When that fire command is in place, we can start establishing care,' said Highland Ambulance Service Director Michael Rock. 'Everybody knows their roles. The key thing is to get him out of there.'

Lawton said that training together is also an important part of the business.

'Williamsburg works with Goshen, Chesterfield, and some firefighters worked in Northampton,' said Lawton of the Hilltown firefighters. 'All firefighters are trained to Firefighter 1 status, a minimum of 160 hours of training from the training academy. It's pretty intense training. They try and get on the same level so nobody is asking questions.'

Curtin said the Northampton Fire Department often brings Williamsburg firefighters into the fold so they know how to use Northampton's equipment as well.

'It works great. We can borrow each others' equipment and everybody's trained in it,' said Curtin.

(Thursday, July 13, 2006)