Several months following the Avianca Flight 52 Crash, which occurred on January 25, 1990, in the Cove Neck village in Long Island (New York), claiming the lives of 73 (8 crew members and 65 passengers) out of the 158 people who were on the board, numerous criticisms have emerged regarding how the Emergency Medical Services system of Nassau County responded to the crash (Saslow, 1990). According to this article, many people have called for critical changes to be made, with regards to handling of emergency cases. It is worth noting the immense response to the crash by several rescue squads from all parts of Long Island. However, what drew criticisms is the unplanned way, in which numerous ambulances arrived at the scene, blocking roads and causing a heavy traffic jam, which made it hard to remove injured passengers (Saslow, 1990). In fact, passengers with less serious injuries who were able to find their way to ambulances packed away from the jam, arrived at the hospital faster, compared to seriously injured ones. According to Joseph Greensher, Winthrop-University Hospital’s medical director, chairperson of Nassau County E.M.S. Committee, the overwhelming turn up of rescue teams was due to the natural response, making it difficult to establish a system, where less people could respond to such tragedies.
It is estimated that thirty seven ambulance and fire companies took part in the rescue effort, including over seven hundred police officers from Nassau County, as well as numerous persons from companies that were uninvited, but came voluntarily to offer their assistance (Saslow, 1990). While the overwhelming response was heavily criticized for the confusion and blockage of roads that delayed the rescue process, some people at the crash site supported the overwhelming response, noting that it would have been instrumental, if the aircraft was a 400-passenger 747, as reported earlier. These thoughts were shared by the medical director of E.M.S. of Suffolk County, Joseph Sciammarella, who said that all extra emergency personnel would have been used, if the aircraft had been a 747, or 737 carrying 200 or more passengers (Saslow, 1990). The Chief of Fire from Oyster Bay Fire Company, Thomas Reardon, the man who was in charge of extricating passengers from the scene of the accident, confirmed that he called the Nassau County Fire Commission and asked for all the assistance available.
Traffic control was probably the biggest problem at the crashing site, according to Dr. Mark Henry of Booth Memorial Medical Center, who witnessed the rescue mission. He said that there were gross violations of emergency vehicle rules by drivers, who chose to abandon their vehicles, preventing other ambulances from getting into the accident scene (Saslow, 1990). Another problem that hindered rescue efforts was the confusion emanating from communication difficulties i.e. there overloaded radio frequencies which caused communication problems within the site of the accident. What helped emergency rescuers was the fact that they maintained radio contact with the management of Nassau County Medical Center, who gave them advice on where to take each patient, based on the level of their injuries (Saslow, 1990). According to this article, large-scale catastrophes can sometimes overwhelm resources of one county; therefore, it is vital that people learn from the Avianca crash, in order to be able to consider regional resources when county resources are insufficient.
The deadly Avianca Flight 52 Crash, which claimed lives of seventy three passengers, was a wakeup call not only to Nassau County, but also other regions around the world, regarding the emergency preparedness. One would totally agree with numerous criticisms regarding criticisms is the unplanned manner, in which numerous ambulances came to the scene, blocking roads and causing a heavy traffic jam, thus, making it difficult to remove injured passengers. While one commend the Emergency Medical Services system of Nassau County for their swift response, the county’s multiple dispatch system of ambulances to emergency sites did not serve its purpose effectively, as it ended up causing a heavy traffic jam, which hindered the rescue effort. The crash should be a lesson to all counties around the world to put in place a single dispatch system that is coordinated and controlled, in order to enhance the effectiveness of responding to disasters.