Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012
On the afternoon of June 11th, park dispatch directed all NPS Sandy Hook law enforcement and fire/EMS units to respond to the US Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook regarding a report of a major emergency (the NPS provides law enforcement, fire, EMS and public works services to this Homeland Security installation). The Coast Guard advised that they were responding to a report of a boat explosion 17 miles off Sandy Hook with over 20 people in the water and at least nine critical burn victims. NPS law enforcement and fire personnel cleared the scene of a vehicle leaking fluids call and responded to the USCG Station within two minutes. Upon arrival, the park’s fire chief set up a unified command post on the vessel dock, while the chief ranger and operations chief reported to the Coast Guard and began to gather additional information as it was being received. The Coast Guard had already dispatched three patrol boats from Sandy Hook Station to begin rescue efforts. NPS rangers and fire staff began arriving and assembling at the USCG docks, while NPS traffic control units were assigned duties as staging managers. Based on the number of burn and trauma patients expected, the NPS IC asked that the Monmouth County mass casualty incident response plan be put into effect, bringing pre-designated emergency medical task force personnel to the USCG docks. As local, county, and state responders began arriving, units were staged a short distance away from the dock and given assignments by NPS and county fire coordinators. Continued USCG reports updated the number of injured patients, at one point totaling 29 casualties. It’s still unclear where USCG was getting this incorrect information. In addition to park fire and rescue apparatus, local, county, and state resources on scene included fire, hazmat, basic life support, advanced life support units, and six medevac helicopters. Two separate hazardous materials decontamination lines were readied, one for anticipated patients arrive at the landing zone and the other at the USCG dock for those arriving by marine vessel. In all, approximately 200 emergency responders were on scene with 50 pieces of equipment from throughout Monmouth County and the state of New Jersey. At approximately 6:30 p.m., word began arriving that no vessel or wreckage had been found in the area by search parties. The operation was scaled back, with assets being released from the scene. At approximately 7 p.m. it was reported by USCG that this might have been a hoax. Federal, state and county law enforcement personnel began arriving for the subsequent criminal investigation. By 8 p.m., all emergency response activities had been shut down. All fire, EMS and mutual aid resources were terminated and focus shifted to the multi-agency law enforcement investigation. The incident is under joint investigation by numerous law enforcement entities, with USCG as the lead agency. At this time, the Coast Guard has posted a reward of $3,000 leading to a conviction in this case. Although the case was a huge strain on local resources, it provided a rare attempt for agencies to work together in a high stress situation, ensuring that resources and responders were prepared for the worst case scenario.