ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - The borough's emergency service agencies held a live action drill at the harbor Thursday evening involving an engine fire aboard a Seastreak Ferry passenger vessel, injuried passengers and crew, and an oil spill in the harbor.
Atlantic Highlands Police Department, Atlantic Highlands Fire Department, Atlantic Highlands First Aid Squad and the Office of Emergency Management held the drill in conjuction with Seastreak Ferry and with support from outside agencies.
In the drill scenario, a Seastreak vessel reports having an engine room fire that is reported to be extinguished with heavy smoke on board. There are four injuries reported including burns and smoke inhalation. The boat reports that it is inbound to Atlantic Highlands with an estimated time of arrival (ETA) of 10 minutes.
PHOTO: Emergency vehicles line the Hesse pier.
Actual passengers on Seastreak's ferry arriving at 7:25pm were informed they would see preparations for a drill as they disembarked.
Prior to the drill, Atlantic Highlands First Aid Squad Chief Jerry Pandolfo said the squad members would not be dispatched until after the boat docked to avoid creating more congestion at the harbor.
After the passengers were out of the way, firefighters carried hose onto the pier, out to the the ferry, where they hooked into standpipes on the pier.
During the live action drill, Atlantic Highlands Fire Department Capt. Brian Sheehan, said there were four victims.
On arrival they were prepared to fight a fire, "we were advised there were victims (on board). We dropped what we were doing and got into rescue (mode). We got them out of the hot zone and put them where it is safe for them and safe for us," Sheehan said.
Two female "victims" of smoke inhalation were able to walk off the ferry on their own power - though one of the women was given oxygen. Two other "victims" remained on board. Both had burns and one, additionally, had back injuries.
After securing the "victims" on the boat, firefighters donned their equipment and went back to fighting the "fire". Soon after, First Aid arrived to tend to the victims. A cart, loaded with first aid equipment was driven on to the dock. One victim was carried out by firefighters, past the cart, on what looked like an orange blanket with handles. Two firefighters carried the victim on the blanket some 150 feet out to the end of the dock. They then but left her at the foot of the dock with one EMT to tend her. Tragically, an ambulance was just a few feet away - around the corner and behind a fire truck - but the firefighters did not know that because there was no communication between Fire and First Aid.
According to Office of Emergency Management coordinator Adam Hubeny, there was a radio communication break down between the agencies.
In addition, First Aid was responsible for removing the victims, yet firefighters needed to move the victims out of the way before First Aid had arrived on scene.
Jack Bevins, Seastreak VP Operations / Charters, remained in character during the drill and shooed away a reporter who was hanging out near the Seastreak gangways, questioning victims. (the reporter complied)
The final victim was removed by cart on a solid stretcher and transferred to a stretcher. The hoses were rolled up, and soon, the firefighters were closing down the scene.
Justin Park, Asst. Operations Manager for Seastreak also remaining in character, held a mock "press conference" immediately following the disaster.
Mr. Park read a statement saying there was a major fire in the engine room. "The vessel's captain was able to maneuver the vessel into the slip but struck a submerged piling in the adjacent mooring field on his approach," said Mr. Park.
There were 152 passengers on board and 6 crew.
"One crew member suffered minor burns securing the machinery space and extinguishing the fire. Seven passengers suffered smoke inhalation and were treated by local EMTs on scene," Park said. "The remaining passengers disembarked and no (other) injuries were reported."
Seastreak's Incident Response Team deployed oil containers around the spill. The oil response firm hired by Seastreak, Miller's Launch of Staten Island, is expected to be on site by 9:00 p.m. to help contain the approximately 1400 gallons of #2 Diesel oil that has spilled into the harbor, according to Mr. Park. Miller's Launch has an arrangement with Tow Boat US to store oil containing booms at the harbor for emergency use, according to Jack Bevins.
"We recognize that this spill represents more than just an inconvenience to this community," said Park. "For those that are impacted, we will have a claims resolution group on hand to serve as your advocate in addressing the claims that you may have in addressing this incident."
Police Chief Jerry Vasto said each of the participating organizations would take part in a post-event meeting to discuss various aspects of the drill. "This is how we improve, doing drills. We'll go over it and see where it can be better."
The drill also fulfills for Seastreak a requirement of the U.S. Coast Guard to have an emergency drill every 12 months.
During the drill, Keyport EMS served on standby for actual calls in town. Highlands Fire Department served as backup in the event of an actual call in town.