The 2009 crash into a Buffalo suburb of Flight 3407 claimed 50 lives, and turned the spotlight on a little-known organization devoted to assisting survivors of loved ones killed in horrific accidents.
How are the bodies of victims identified and transported to family funeral homes? How are personal effects retrieved and returned to grieving families? How is the work of medical examiners, forensic experts, funeral directors and local officials coordinated? All of these tasks and many more are assigned to DMORT, an organization which was established in 1996 by an act of Congress to address the concerns of families who had lost loved ones in mass fatality incidents such as airline crashes, floods and other disasters. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services maintains a DMORT website providing information about the team of professionals with more than 1200 members from all parts of the country.
It soon became obvious after the Flight 3407 tragedy that more help would be needed for the Erie County Medical Examiner's office to establish a temporary morgue, identify the victims and return them to their families for final disposition. A call went out to DMORT which responded with a team of forensic scientists, anthropologists, finger print experts, pathologists, DNA specialists and funeral directors. Work began immediately so that grieving families would get answers and closure during this time of overwhelming stress and anxiety. Among the funeral directors who responded to DMORT's call were several New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYSFDA) members, Douglas Brueggeman, chairman of NYSFDA's Disaster Committee and head of NYSFDA's Family Assistance Commission; Joseph Noll, NYSFDA Disaster Committee Member and David Carpentier, DMORT member.
For accidents that occur in New York State and do not require a massive response such as DMORT provides, NYSFDA established the Family Assistance Commission (FAC) in 2007. Members are volunteer funeral directors who interview survivors and process paperwork in cooperation with local officials to facilitate the release of remains to the next-of-kin or other representatives. FAC members are especially trained to provide vital services and grief counseling to survivors to help them at a very difficult time.
The work of DMORT and FAC demonstrates how funeral directors respond to the needs of grieving families, and provides compassionate care for them.