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Orange County first responders want "crash gate" built to improve I-84 response times after deadly bus crash

First responders want "crash gate" to improve I-84 response times
First responders want "crash gate" to improve I-84 response times 02:09

WAWAYANDA, N.Y. -- First responders in Orange County said Monday the charter bus crash that killed Farmingdale High School's band director and a chaperone on I-84 should prompt a major safety improvement.  

The project would shave precious minutes off response times to incidents on the interstate, they said. 

The faces of volunteer firefighters who worked the terrible accident scene on Thursday were stoic. The incident commander said seeing so many scared and injured kids made a bad situation worse. 

"You just let them know help is on the way, there's more manpower coming to be able to assist them. But you have to revert to your training and really focus on that," said Slate Hill Fire District Assistant Chief Shaun Graham. 

The Slate Hill District is now focusing on fixing a long-standing issue. The volunteers average one call a week for incidents on I-84, but the nearest interstate entrance is 4 miles from the firehouse. 

Firetrucks must travel east along Route 6 into a neighboring fire district to enter the interstate, then double back west into their own jurisdiction. 

"In instances like the one that we saw last week, every minute, every second matters and counts," said State Sen. James Skoufis (D). 

Elected officials said it's time to create a so-called "crash gate" to access I-84 just north of the firehouse, an idea that was first proposed 20 years ago. 

The favored location for the "crash gate" is from Route 49. It would be a first responders-only access road built between the eastbound and westbound highways. 

Had it been available for Thursday's bus crash, "We would have gotten there sooner. I would say anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes sooner. How that would have changed the outcome, I don't know," said Slate Hill Fire District Chief Mike Dally. 

"But I think it would have been good for us to obviously be there as soon as possible even just to start assessing the scene and see what resources we need," said Dally. 

It will take state and federal support to move the project forward, but these first responders say they won't give up until it's easier for their trucks to get on I-84. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state will work with local supporters to improve access to I-84. But the Federal Highway Administration will have the final say. 

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