|Test of the Emergency Preparedness System, Rockland County, NY - June 29, 2005|
|Driving anywhere from my home for a week before I couldn't help but notice a flashing public works sign, warning the neighborhood about a county-wide test of the emergency services , scheduled to take place at the local community college here in Rockland County, NY. We are a small suburban county, immediately north of New York City. At the risk of showing my age, I recall when the most exciting thing here was going to the movie theater to help them put out the new folding chairs. Now, post 9-11, and in such proximity to NYC, the concepts of location, location, location and in harms way are merging.|
|Being a photographer, and of course, being a citizen, this was something I needed to be at and to see. I arrived early, which was good, because shortly after I arrived the placed started to 'lock down' (my words) which meant if you didn't look like you needed to be there, you weren't going to be. After establishing my credentials, I was directed to a viewing area where observers could gain an overview of the event. There was a news station crew there, but other than that, a few people with camcorders, which surprised me because a) I didn't really think this was the type of thing the county wanted home movies of and b) I did think it was the type of thing they would want documented for review and study.|
|Most pictures will click to larger images!|
|Of course, no event is 'official' unless politicians are there. This is Christopher St. Lawrence, the Supervisor of the Town of Ramapo (who actually isn't such a bad guy...)|
|I'm sure there was a tremendous amount of preparation and coordinating before hand. Even so, there was a lot going on before the event started. Left is the make-up room, where volunteers had prosthetics applied to simulate real injuries. Next, the Bomb Squad wires a van. The event was 'precipitated' by an explosion: a parked van blows up. At right, I guess these guys do inspections etc in real life. Here I believe they were supervising to make sure everyone who participated came home alive. The last shot is the Bomb Squad leaving, right before the explosion.|
|Yes, a 'bomb' did go off in the van. It was LOUD. And filled with percussion. In fact, there were several that night (I guess to keep people on their toes) and each startled me slightly. You could really feel them and I'm afraid to say they put the Town's fireworks display, held at the same location a few days earlier, to shame. Even so, the van only contained the boom-bomb, so to speak. A fireman then set a car on fire for the emergency crews to utilize. (Chris St. Lawrence then shouted "That's my car! Someone said I could park over there.")|
|The announcement went out over the radios for the injured to come and take their places. In 2 minutes, the place looked like a mini-disaster area. Bodies lying, bloodied and moaning, people walking in a daze. Paramedics doing triage and a news-crew getting the night's entertainment ("Car bomb explodes, 250 dead, hundreds injured. Story at 11..." Don't get me started on the subject of network news.) The first picture above was seconds after we were officially into the event. Literally, bodies all over the place. The second is the EMT assessing an injured victim. Note, the camera man is not working for the drill, he is reporting. Third is a woman who was in the center of the concusion. She was screaming "I can't hear I can't hear anything!" She wandered around a few moments, dazed, and the EMT assigned a security officer to walk her to a bus. She was still moaning as she passed me. The fourth picture above I find interesting. A bomb had gone off, people hurt and dead, a fire raging in the background, over his shoulder and this fireman is doing paperwork. Trouble is, I don't know if he was doing paperwork drill related, or if he is a bureaucrat.|
|I was really amazed at the tone of this exercise. Sure, a few of the students tried to make light of laying on the wet tarmac, but other than that, you would have thought a bomb had gone off. The woman above with the concusion was so convincing, right to the buses. The EMTs above were on these victims like white on rice, assessing, acting and then moving on to the next. It was extremely professional throught the entire event.|
|The triage began immediately. Above left, 2 paramedics transport a baby (dummy) to one of the buses. Next, victims being tagged with their status and priority. Enlarge this picture and you will see the DEAD tag on the victim. The bottom two are a Hatzolah, private and county EMT getting ready to transport an injured to a waiting bus. Again, notice the DEAD guy in the forground of the lower right picture. Bodies where everywhere. I think the larger of the pics at right is my best shot of the night. Although the EMT looks like he is caring for a victim, the victim was "dead", and the EMT knew it from the tag. He was confirming it to his own satisfaction. A personal moment that could probably have cost someone else dearly, but these are people afterall, and the potential for emotions getting in the way was huge.|
|After the easily accessable people comes the property damage control. Fire Departments from all over Rockland responded, with some incredible looking equipment. Above, the Tallman House arrives. A day or two before there was a huge, all night fire right across the street from their House which almost completely destroyed a lumber yard. It was multi-alarm. Even so, these guys showed and didn't look any the worse for having spent hours and hours at that blaze. In the middle several firemen from a pumper truck put out the car fire. Clicking on the picture will give you a hint of the feel of this thing. There was smoke everywhere, and these guys would come into and go out of sight as the smoke and wind shifted.The last picture is probably the most bizarre. EMTs wheel the two dead bodies from the car fire over to where the Medical Examiner's Office can have a look, and then they put them into body bags. I must say, these corpses were really spooky. They were articulated, so the guys had to hold their arms and head when putting them into the bags. The ME gave them instructions and clarification on some subtle points and everyone was back to work again.|
|The crew above is from Pearl River's Urban Search and Rsecue Team. Their job is to enter structures and pull out anyone trapped inside. For their drill a structure was made to replicate a collapsed building. I assume inside was a maze of uprights, cross beams and obstacles. They showed up with at least two trucks filled with wood for building supporting members. At left above part of the teams waits outside the 'building'. In the center members cut pieces for support to the exact size requested by the team inside the structure, and at right a piece is passed inside for shoring.|
|Yes, I agree, this is a rather unusual place to end this story, but right about the time of the last photo above, two things happened that pretty much forced my hand.
First, those of you who know my work know I rarely, if ever, use artificial light. It was quickly passing twilight and my days of using a 300mm lens at a 30th of a second, handheld, are long gone. As it is, I was shooting with Fuji Press 800 speed film (which is why many of the pictures above look like they were shot through cheesecloth.) It was just dark through the viewfinders.
Second, at just about the time of the last picture an announcement came over the radios: there was a shooter in the building and everyone had to leave for both safety and to allow the SWAT team free access to the area.
It had been explained to me by several people, and I fully understood and respected, that the SWAT team did not want their picture taken. However, there were a few other people walking around with camcorders and stuff. One of the SWAT members said someone was taking their picture, (not me! I was shooting pictures of Fire Trucks in the blackness with their huge lights.) An Officer came up to me and explained their concern, again, and asked that I give him the roll I was shooting when I finished it and it would be developed, on the County's dime. After their review, I could have it back if all looked ok. I took the roll of film out of my camera right then and there, handed it to him, and I was done.
So, maybe there is more. Maybe the County's photo lab ate my film. Maybe there are 30 or so exposures of blackness. At this point I just don't know and, at the risk of seeminglike the above-mentioned 11 o'clock news, you'll have to come back for the rest of the story.. If I get the film back, and there's something worth seeing, you'll be the first to know.
Thanks for looking.
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