About 200 emergency personnel responded to the simulated scene of a truck driving into a crowd Sunday at Jones Beach in a training exercise modeled after recent terror attacks in Europe.
More than two dozen fire departments, ambulance corps and law enforcement agencies acted out apprehending a terrorist and treating victims — who were covered in simulated blood and Hollywood-style gore. The scenario depicted the aftermath of a box truck ramming into a crowd exiting a concert at the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater.
Lisa Lang-Gross, the Wantagh Fire Department training coordinator, said she spent three months planning the exercise, which was based off terror attacks using trucks in Berlin, where 12 people died in December, and Nice, France, where 84 people were killed in July.
“We train on how to better ourselves because these incidents can be so real,” Lang-Gross said. “Vehicle ramming happens to be the common terroristic tactic lately.”
Most of the drill’s first responders did not know the scenario ahead of time. They arrived on scene to find two cars that appeared to have crashed into each other, a person pretending to be trapped underneath a truck and about 50 teenagers from the Wantagh Explorer Program — the youth training arm of the fire department — on the ground moaning loudly.
New York State Parks Police officers were the first on the scene because the agency patrols outside the theater, which can hold about 15,000 spectators during a sold-out event, Capt. Anthony Astacio said. Officers secured the “crime scene”, began an investigation and arrested the perpetrator, who was played by a volunteer and taken into custody within minutes.
The first ambulance on scene became the temporary command post until fire chiefs arrived, said Kevin Regan, Wantagh Fire Department public information officer. While firefighters cut open the two crashed vehicles and extricated people inside, emergency medical technicians placed color-coded tags on victims to indicate their level of injury and need for treatment.
Victims were then transported in ambulances and buses to nearby hospitals — Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow and St. Joseph in Bethpage — where doctors and nurses escorted them to operating rooms and medical imaging rooms, where treatment was simulated, said Victor Politi, president and CEO of Nassau University Medical Center and former Nassau Police commissioner.
After the two-hour drill, officials met to discuss how to improve the response and correct errors such as sorting patients into the wrong triage groups, Lang-Gross said.
The participating fire departments, which ranged geographically from Syosset to Seaford, hold mass casualty trainings about every two years, officials said.
Brian Newins, 18, a college student from Levittown, who played a victim with a fake bone sticking out of his arm and red paint-splattered clothes, said the training taught him how he could help people if a similar real-life situation were to occur.
“It’s just really eye-opening with how the community has something to learn from this, not just the first responders,” Newins said.