Boilermaker is first responder to plane crash

Local D308 trustee David Case serves as incident commander over rescue and fire suppression operations following the crash of Flight 3407 Feb. 12 near Buffalo, N.Y.

Local D308’s David Case grew up on street where Flight 3407 crashed into home

AS CHIEF OF the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Company near Buffalo, N.Y., David Case has faced many emergencies. But those experiences could not have prepared the 36-year-old trustee of Local D308 (Bowmansville, N.Y.) for the catastrophic plane crash near his home on the night of Feb. 12.

Case, who works as a welder at nearby Wehrle Quarry, was sitting on his couch with his laptop when his pager went off. He says he will never forget the words that came out of the dispatcher’s mouth: “Clarence Center, you have a report of a plane crash; house on fire.”

Within minutes, Case and other volunteers were rushing to the scene on Long Street. None of them knew at the time that Continental Flight 3407 had plummeted into the neighborhood, flattening a home, and killing all 49 people onboard and one person on the ground. It was a neighborhood Case knew well, as he had grown up on that very street.

Case responded to the scene in his official chief’s vehicle. Only being one-half mile away, he arrived second on location and promptly reported to dispatch that the house was fully involved and he was establishing command.

“When I got there, there was nothing that resembled a house left. I really didn’t see the plane until I got 180 degrees around the scene. Only then, when I saw the size of the tail, did it hit me that this was not a small plane,” Case said. “That image is forever etched in my mind.”

Since the Clarence fire department is located literally 1,000 feet away from the crash site, the firefighters had water on the fire right away. Case then began a search for survivors.

“I sent two crews of four to search the yards and roofs of the houses next to the impact house. If people were out there, I did not want to miss them.”

Miraculously, there were two survivors who lived in the house that was hit. The mother remembers seeing a light and pushing debris out of the way to escape to the backyard. The daughter made it out of her bedroom window. Both escaped only seconds before the house exploded. “I have no idea how they got out,” Case said.

Knowing there were no other survivors, Case continued fire suppression operations. The fire was very difficult, and he credits 12 other fire departments that responded later that night, along with local and state police, for their help in containing the fire.

“We were ‘behind the eight-ball’ twice [meaning they were at a disadvantage]. Once with a natural gas leak in the home, and second with a stubborn fire fed by jet fuel,” Case said.

He and his crew spent 13 hours on the scene until they could get the gas shut off the next morning. The clean-up process lasted seven days. In all, over 1,000 people from 50 different local, county, state, and federal agencies were involved in the incident.

The crash has greatly impacted Case and his fire company. “We have to drive past it every time we respond to an alarm. The whole community has rallied around each other, making us stronger.”

Case, a volunteer firefighter since 1992, has earned numerous awards, including 1993 Rookie Firefighter of the Year, Excellence through Teamwork for saving a bus driver’s life in 1995, and Man of the Year from the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Co. in 1996. He has been an officer for 14 years, beginning as a lieutenant and working his way up to fire chief, a position he has held for four years. He was incident commander for the crash of Flight 3407, in charge of both rescue and fire suppression operations.

Case has worked at Wehrle Quarry, founded in 1904 by Buffalo Crushed Stone Inc., since 2001.

Flight 3407, a daily U.S. regional airline commuter flight, was flying from Newark to Buffalo when it crashed six miles short of the runway, in the suburb of Clarence Center. It was the first fatal crash of a commercial airliner in the United States since Comair Flight 191 in August 2006.