The Lady Speaks

When It Works

I live in Sayre PA, in a community known collectively as “The Valley.” The Valley consists of 6 communities in two counties, in two separate states, blended together over the border with NY: Sayre, South Waverly, Athens, Athens Township PA, and Waverly and Barton NY. [GoogleEarth map]

It is impossible, except by air, to see where one community ends and the next begins. Our streets and roads blend seamlessly. From the air, you can see NY’s Rte 17 (soon to be I-86) slashing through the upper end, but a section of the highway actually runs just south of the border – through PA.

In 2000, we were the first FEMA-designated ‘Project Impact’ community to cross state lines and FEMA regions, and a showcase for how to run disasters that impact communities on both sides of a border. We even got some great little signs that notify visitors to the area that we are a “FEMA-designated, Multi-State, Disaster-Resistant Community.” Catchy, eh?

Prior to Project Impact and the signing of Memoranda of Agreement by state, county, and municipal officals, it was a bit of a problem for fire, ambulance, and police to cross the border to assist. Now, it’s simply a matter of requesting mutual aid, the same as is done with same-state companies. It’s done fairly often, especially with police. Since these are small communities, there isn’t a large amount of back-up that can be called. So, when calls go out, Waverly NY’s PD can request assistance from any of the PA communities, and vis versa.

All of which is a long introduction to explain “When It Works.”

On Monday night, three tractor-trailers crashed on Rte 17/I-86, between Exits 58 (Chemung) and 60 (PA Rte. 220 junction) where construction had been on-going and traffic was reduced to two-way traffic, using the previously-eastbound lanes.

Apparently, one driver was westbound and crossed into the eastbound lane, hitting another truck head-on, which caused the crash of the third truck as it attempted to avoid the accident.

It was a massive incident, with trucks on fire and several explosions heard by those in the area around it. One driver was killed, another was taken to the hospital and then flown to a burn center in Syracuse where he’s in critical condition, and the third was treated and released. Fire companies responded from all over the Valley, as well as from all over Tioga County. Greater Valley EMS responded with several rigs.

The highway, naturally, had to be shut down. Local police from both states, the Tioga County Sheriff’s Department and the NY State Police were on the scene, and detoured traffic off Rte 17, sending vehicles onto Rte 17C. Even after the fire was out, traffic was detoured as state police reconstruction unit investigated, the trucks were removed from the scene, and the highway milled and repaved. As of 4pm yesterday afternoon, when I returned home after a trip to Scranton, traffic was still being detoured.

Co-ordinating about 15-18 volunteer fire companies, several law enforcement units, and multiple ambulances is one thing. Throw in a Hazardous Response team, the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Dept. of Transportation, and the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Then add in a house fire in South Waverly – complete with a “large amount of ammunition inside and poisonous snakes.”

Then try doing it with two or three county communications centers, in two states. The people at the comm centers in Bradford County PA and Tioga County NY, as well as Chemung County NY deserve huge amounts of praise. They did an amazing job.

Speaking of that house fire, that was also another ‘Project Impact’ incident. (scroll down) And, other than Sayre and South Waverly, none of the departments who fought it normally work together. Their fire districts don’t border each other, and one of them is from almost 25 miles south of the Valley. Yet, they also did an amazing job, which speaks to the dedication and training of all our volunteers, in both states.

When it works, it works.

Now, if only the feds would get their act together….


June 6, 2007 - Posted by | America, EMS, Firefighters, Law Enforcement, New York, Pennsylvania, Project Impact


  1. It works because common sense, and a dedication to fellow humans is paramount, in the organizations that respond to these tragedies. (At least in our area.)
    The deserve a lot of praise for doing a job, not many others would ever do for pay, let alone for free.
    I am proud to be the mother of a Volunteer Firefighter.

    Comment by mom | June 7, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi Mom!
    Jenn, a good friend of mine is a trucker that drives in your area and I was afraid to read the news story for fear he was one of the 3. He wasn’t, altho condolences to those other truckers.
    This story illustrates my belief that if we outlawed so-called leaders and let the people take care of the people’s business, things would work better everywhere.
    Awesome post.

    Comment by mirth | June 10, 2007 | Reply

  3. Mirth: How frightening! I’m glad your friend wasn’t involved in the accident!

    I think the biggest lesson to be learned from this and other incidents is that having knowlegable people in positions of authority is critical. When cronies are appointed solely for their ability to raise money and/or donate large amounts of cash and have zero experience in the field, they’re worse than useless; they’re anchors slowing down everyone who’s trying to actually deal with the crisis.

    Comment by PA_Lady | June 12, 2007 | Reply

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