First responders reflect on grief after NY limo crash
The firefighters, police officers and EMTs described sleepless nights, persistent memories and "basic sorrow” as they grapple with what they saw
By Emily Masters
SCHOHARIE, N.Y. — Five days after converging on the nation's worst transportation disaster in nine years, the Central Bridge fire and ambulance squad got a call it was dreading all week: another car wreck.
"It was one of our fears: how it would turn out, how we would react, if it was going to trigger anything," Central Bridge Fire Department Chief Brian Baker said.
Thankfully, the Thursday crash and another that followed were both minor. No one was injured, and the crew "got back on the horse," he said.
"They're holding their own at the moment, feeling better day by day, but it will be a long time until things are normal," Baker said.
The emergency workers who rushed to the scene of the fatal limousine crash Oct. 6 are still grappling with what they saw that Saturday afternoon. The firefighters, police officers and EMTs described sleepless nights, persistent memories and, as Baker put it, "basic sorrow."
Twenty people -- including the driver, all 17 passengers and two bystanders -- were killed when a stretch limousine sped through an intersection and crashed head-on into an embankment along Route 30A.
Every firefighter and nearly all of the medical personnel who were sent to the scene are volunteers.
"They may do superhuman work but they are normal people," Schoharie County Sheriff Ron Stevens said. "The first responders did everything they could and that is probably what hurts the most. We do this to save lives."
The troopers who responded to the crash said through a State Police spokeswoman that their experience was still too fresh to discuss. Albany Medical Center Hospital, which had medical staff on standby Saturday and whose pathologist handled the autopsies, also declined to comment.
"We feel for the grieving parents, grieving children," Stevens said. "We know that our pain is recoverable but they cannot recover what they lost. I think that's why we're so guarded."
He said his deputies and medics were also not ready to talk about what they'd seen.
The Central Bridge firefighters and ambulance squad who were at the crash site that day -- about seven or eight people, the chief said, including himself -- have set up a group text chain to support one another.
"We can chat all day long," Baker said. "If something is bothering us, we can discuss it or make plans to meet up in person."
The group has also spent time together every day and attended two stress debriefings with Red Cross and county mental health professionals.
"There are images you can't forget... You can't erase your memory," Baker said. "Each time you can get together and discuss these things, especially with people who were there, it helps. You hear you're not the only one dealing with it. It takes the edge off when people listen."
On Tuesday, the Central Bridge fire and rescue squad visited the crash site together. Some prayed, others had a quiet moment. They all embraced and cried.
"We never knew them but we feel like we're close at heart now," Baker said, crying softly as he talked about the victims. "It's hard to explain."
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