Monday, February 3, 2014

Game Warden Files--The Ethan Allen

Someone recently made note of the fact that though I'd spent some time blogging on the largest tragedy I'd ever dealt with--the World Trade Center disaster we know so well as 911-- I'd never mentioned another major tragedy in my career, one much closer to home: the sinking of the pleasure boat Ethan Allen on Lake George in October of 2005.
As in most cases of disaster, many are hailed as heroes for their response--and some truly are, stoically doing great things under extraordinary circumstances; but most of us merely respond, take an assigned task or fill a spot where we find a need, complete our tasks and go home. We do not consider ourselves heroes.
Within a half hour of the boat's capsizing, my phone rang and I was out the door only minutes later, running with red lights and siren all the way from Meco to well north of Lake George Village. By the time I arrived the event had changed from a rescue to a recovery. Those who would survive had been rescued and the grim task of bringing the bodies to shore had begun.
Virtually every undertaker in the region had been called to deal with the many deaths. Among them was a young man who had grown up and attended school with my sons. I ended up working with him and others of his profession escorting the hearses carrying the victims to the makeshift morgue--a freezer truck--at the nearest hospital. This was a necessary part of the process as the entire event had to be considered a potential crime scene, and the chain of evidence had to be preserved; thus a police presence with each body was necessary.
It was not an enjoyable job, and the usual morbid humor by which most emergency personnel cope with disaster was notably absent. My young undertaker friend's observation that though these folks were all unknowns to us--mostly older folks from the mid-west--they were mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, kept the mood pretty somber. I did my job, unceremonious as it was, and went home later that night. Since I had to be out of town the next day on another assignment, I was not part of raising the sunken craft or involved in the investigation in any way.
I never really gave my part in the even much thought; I responded, did my job and went home. A month or so later a local businesswoman asked me if I had been involved in the Ethan Allen event, and what my part had been. When I told her what I'd done, a deep sadness came over her and she asked if I was able to sleep through the night yet. The question took me aback quite a bit. The fact that we in police, fire and EMS are called upon to do these things is not something that upsets me. It's part of the job, we do it and go home. Those who are unable to cope with it are better served to be in other professions; they and society are both better for it..
It's ironic that I can deal with these things objectively as they are occurring when I'm involved; but I don't deal well with seeing any extreme emotion-provoking moments in the lives of others when I'm detatched--often watching TV shows, movies or even some commercials I get a lump in my throat and my eyes might even well up with tears...guess I'm not much of a hero.

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