Any large-scale emergency incident can prove the value of multi-agency cooperation and teach responders lessons to be applied in future emergencies. Case in point: the fatal crash of a twin-engine passenger airplane into a commercial building in Massachusetts proved the value of a combined...
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Any large-scale emergency incident can prove the value of multi-agency cooperation and teach responders lessons to be applied in future emergencies. Case in point: the fatal crash of a twin-engine passenger airplane into a commercial building in Massachusetts proved the value of a combined response by state and local resources and raised awareness of operational and logistical issues to be addressed in similar situations.
On the morning of April 4, 2003, a Beechcraft King Air 200 twin-engine plane departed from LaGuardia Airport in New York City with five passengers on board. The flight’s destination was Fitchburg Municipal Airport in Massachusetts, where even though it was a spring morning, the weather was raw with drizzle and a slight icing that forced a two-hour delay in opening local schools.
At 9:21 A.M., the airplane was cleared for the approach into Fitchburg, but at 9:28 the crew was advised by Boston’s Logan International Airport to change that approach and the crew acknowledged the request. According to a passenger who was the only survivor of the crash, “everything seemed fine” during the flight until the aircraft entered a left turn in which it went almost completely upside down. The airplane straightened out, then entered a left-turn roll and went into a dive straight down until it struck a commercial building. Witnesses on the ground said they believed the plane was approaching too fast and too low.
At 9:29, calls were received by the Leominster Fire Department Fire Alarm Office reporting an airplane down in the vicinity of a residential area. The initial dispatch consisted of Engines 3 and 4, the heavy rescue and an advanced life support (ALS) unit from MED-Star Ambulance Service, along with on-duty Deputy Chief Alfred E. LeBlanc. (LeBlanc, a career fire officer of 26 years, is now chief of the Leominster Fire Department. He is a Massachusetts Fire Academy instructor coordinator for 14 years and on the adjunct faculty at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester.) The crew of Engine 3, whose quarters are on the north side of the city, came out of their station and saw a large plume of black smoke about a quarter-mile away. The engine officer, Lieutenant Charles LeBlanc, immediately reported a working fire at 9:31, dispatching Ladder 2 and Engine 2 to fill out the assignment. He made the decision to go down Nashua Street, which intersects with the firehouse, toward the smoke.
On arrival, Lieutenant LeBlanc found the aircraft had crashed into the rear of a two-story, 100-by-100-foot, metal-clad building that housed the D-E Corp., a sheet metal fabricating business. Seven D-E employees were working in the building at the time.
Leominster Police Officer Ronald Simmons met Engine 3’s crew and stated he was with a victim who had just walked away from the aircraft. Lieutenant LeBlanc asked the police officer to stay with the patient, then walked to the back of the building, where he found the aircraft with people trapped. Heavy fire was showing all around the nose of the plane and a portion of the building had collapsed.
At 9:31, Deputy Chief LeBlanc, while enroute, ordered a second-alarm assignment with four additional ambulances to the scene. An engine and ladder from the City of Fitchburg and an engine from the Shirley Fire Department (Engine 5) were called to the scene. Lieutenant LeBlanc reported to fire alarm that four people were trapped in the plane and in need of extrication.