‘Hard to believe it’s been 15 years’: Former Clarence emergency manager reflects on challenges responding to 3407 crash

CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) — Coordinating an emergency response the night of the Flight 3407 plane crash and the weeks that followed was no simple task.

If there was anyone who could handle the emergency, it was David Bissonette.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years. That was a life-changing event for so many people. Myself and my wife. It’s changed our perspective on life in general, I think,” he said.

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News 4 caught up with the retired Emergency Manager for the Town of Clarence and he shared his experience during one of the most challenging moments of his career.

“This was by far one of the most complicated disasters I’ve been responsible for managing over the years,” he said.

When the call came in for a plane crash on the night of Feb. 12, 2009, he was one of the first people to respond.

“When I first arrived on location, the entire scene was on fire,” he said to News 4 as he looked back on that night 15 years ago.

After he arrived on scene for the first hour, he coordinated an effort with crews to put out the fire. He then secured the scene while it was under investigation.

“We spent a lot of time setting up a perimeter. Protecting the scene from outside influences. What I mean by that, the site was an evidence and treated as a crime scene at that moment for the sake of the integrity of the investigation,” Bissonette said.

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In the weeks that followed, the emergency manager helped set up a command post and organized a multi-agency response.

“An incident of this magnitude was going to involve local, county, state and federal assets all converging on the town of Clarence within hours,” he said. “Getting an infrastructure in place to support all that was no small task.”

Bissonette reflects on having to work under extreme pressure. When he found out that he knew some of the victims, he had to set his emotions aside until his job was complete.

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“I’ve been doing this a long time, but when you do emergency management in the town you live in, it can very quickly become emotional, and it’s something you have to be careful of,” he said.

“It’s important that we respect that emotion but put it in its place until the incident has been completed, and then we can grieve with the rest of the community,” he added.

He says the town learned a lot from this disaster and many of the lessons are still put into practice 15 years later.

“This area as far as I’m concerned, is a world class capability and preparedness. In the emergency management business, we never know what the next crisis is going to be and a lot of the networking and relationships we have built over a number of years are one of the few things we have to count on,” he said.

Bissonette retired after 33 years as the emergency manager in the town of Clarence.

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Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.

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