East Lyme — The fatal crash involving a tanker truck and five other vehicles Friday morning on Interstate 95 represented one of the largest incidents, in terms of emergency response, in the region's history.
By the time the last responders left, at 2:30 Saturday morning, 169 people representing 23 agencies had been on the scene.
They included everyone from first responders to agencies like the state Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard, tow-truck drivers, the medical examiner's office, and Pfizer Inc., which had foam trucks available.
Early Tuesday night, during a debriefing on the response at the Flanders fire house, representatives from the various organizations complimented one another on the coordination at the crash, which they said is often difficult to achieve.
“It was an unprecedented operation,” said Nick DeLia, co-chairman of the region's Incident Management Team, which facilitates among departments during large responses.
Responders use an “after-action review” like the one Tuesday to gauge what they did well and where they can improve. About 50 responders representing a wide variety of agencies attended.
DeLia said most of the departments that responded on Friday know each other because of twice-monthly regional meetings to prepare for emergency events. That familiarity, he said, breeds a trust that is crucial.
“Very little good came out of 9/11, but one of the things is that we're all on the same team,” he said. “We all have to work together to protect the public. So a lot of the turf wars from many, many years ago are gone. There were no turf wars here. The state police were standing right next to the Department of Transportation, next to (Flanders Fire) Chief (Kyle) Foley, next to the DEP — and it was, 'What do we have to do to get this scene taken care of?' ”
The accident occurred at about 10:19 a.m., in the southbound lane just before Exit 75, when a tanker truck traveling north lost control and careened into southbound traffic, striking a tractor-trailer and four cars. Three people were killed.
Flanders Deputy Fire Chief Jim Levandoski moderated the debriefing, which included video and photos of the accident scene and a PowerPoint presentation about the response.
Levandoski said he would like a better accounting of everyone who responds during the next incident, an item DeLia said his group can help with.
A representative of the DEP commended local fire departments for working quickly to contain the diesel fuel spilled by the tanker. Responders sprayed foam, spread sand and dug a trench in an effort to contain the fuel before it flowed into catch basins leading into the Niantic River and out into Long Island Sound.
Levandoski said the department collected about 80 percent of the spill, far more than its usual recovery, which he said is about 50 percent.
The group did not come up with an overall solution to the gridlock experienced around the region when traffic was diverted to local roads.
Waterford police Chief Murray Pendleton said the traffic in his town was “close to bedlam in some cases” and reiterated a call to use more signs next time. He recommended being “more creative” in separating trucks and cars, as well as using Routes 1 and 85 and other roads.
Tami Hodges of the state's Public Safety Employee Assistance Program also spoke to the group. She, too, credited the agencies with working well together and said she didn't have to quell any turf wars or other issues on scene. She advised them on some of the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and left information about issues they might experience as well as EAP organization.
“This is definitely one of those incidents we'll never forget,” Hodges said. “This is one that's going to stay very, very present in your memory banks, but it should turn into a memory and a life experience. It shouldn't be as fresh for you two months from now as it was the day after the incident.”