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First responder Greg Miglino: Lessons learned from Flight 800

Greg Miglino was among the first responders who

Greg Miglino was among the first responders who tried to help after the crash of TWA Flight 800. Credit: Danielle Ohl

Greg Miglino, 48, Brookhaven

In 1996: Was chief of operations for the Brookhaven Ambulance Corps

Now: Chief of the South Country Ambulance Corps

He was making a summertime ice cream run in Bellport when a man approached him and told him he’d seen a plane crash on the bay. Miglino immediately sped toward the waterfront and scanned the area with binoculars, but couldn’t see any sign of wreckage.

On his way home, he heard a call for the East Moriches Volunteer Ambulance to report to the local U.S. Coast Guard Station for a plane crash. Miglino mobilized his Brookhaven Ambulance Corps and headed for the small station in East Moriches, where he would spend his night organizing responding units to provide medical service for any survivors.

On the night of TWA Flight 800 crash, Miglino said he was “astounded” by the conditions of the Coast Guard station — small, isolated and “not really set up for the kind of response that was coming toward it,” he said.

Word soon came that if there were survivors, there would be few. Miglino sent much of his corps away and focused on providing aid to rescuers.

“When you hear that there may only be a few survivors and it was a large plane, could be hundreds of people, obviously emotionally it takes a toll on you,” he said.

In the months to come, Suffolk County “brought in a tremendous amount of resources” to revamp the Coast Guard Station, he said.

Countywide, fire and police departments sent their divers for advanced rescue training. Miglino’s department invested in a marine rescue boat and implemented training for water rescue emergencies. Because of the changes, they’re now able to respond to smaller emergencies, such as personal watercraft and sailboat incidents.

Miglino said he can’t go for a run in Smith Point County Park, home of a memorial for the victims, without looking toward the water and thinking of the lives lost. If friends visit from out of state, he takes them there to remember the families left behind.

But ultimately, it’s his job, now as chief of the South Country Ambulance Corps that serves as the biggest reminder.

“My job is to get up every day and go forward and make sure I protect the life that’s still here to be protected,” he said, “and to remember the people and honor those that we couldn’t save or recover.”

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