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EMS Operations at Water Aircraft Crashes

When US Airways Flight 1594 splashed down in the Hudson River with 155 souls on board, a massive response on the part of the New York City emergency community was undertaken, part of which was the Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) EMS Haz Tac Battalion's officers, Haz Tac ALS and BLS units and rescue medics. Water landings of fixed-wing aircraft are inherently dangerous, usually leading to the aircraft breaking up and sinking quickly. This was not so with the Airbus A-320 jet that was US Airways Flight 1594.

Thankfully, the full technical capabilities of the officers and members weren't needed on this assignment. Yet, EMS providers will undoubtedly be challenged when confronted with such an emergency. EMS providers everywhere can apply what has been learned from the rescue of people onboard US Airways Flight 1594 and a similar crash from 1992 when responding to an emergency water landing.

Any EMS operation around any body of water, or one in which the responders are deployed on a vessel, should make the use of personal flotation devices mandatory. Agencies that provide EMS personnel with bunker gear should have training and a policy regarding marine and littoral responses and the use of bunker gear. EMS strike team leaders, communication resource coordinators and branch directors should have the ability to monitor and communicate on Marine Radio Channel 16 when operating in a marine or littoral incident. This will make communication between the U.S. Coast Guard, fire and police boats, and EMS units seamless.

Weather can be a contributing factor in the cause of the crash. It can also impact the responders. Operating on the Hudson River, in weather that's 20-degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill hovering around the single digits, had an impact on the patients, responders and equipment. The water temperature during this incident was around 40 degrees, making timely rescue of passengers in the water critical to their survival. Personnel performance will be negatively affected, requiring mandatory rotation and rehabilitation. Drugs and IV fluids will freeze, batteries will die quicker, and computer and ECG/AED screens will be altered. Any foam or water over-spray being used to fight resulting fires or suppress fuel vapors will create slip and exposure hazards if working on land or off the deck of a vessel.

Jet aircraft fuels are

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