First Responders Go Above and Beyond During Blizzard of ‘16
While most residents were home and warm watching the snow pile up in the front yards as we day-dreamed about not going to school for a week or wondered how to keep kids from going stir crazy, there was a small army of public servants braving the elements and the dangers therein to keep us safe.
Police officers from the 5th District were on the roads during the height of the storm, as well as after the storm, said the Germantown District Commander David Gillespie. “We had the assets from the national guard and some four-wheel drive vehicles.” However, he said that there were times when even the military Humvees would get stuck in the snow as it piled up.
According to Gillespie, “We had our officers, who usually ride alone in patrol cars, double-up with a partner during the storm. And the National Guard vehicles had the capacity to carry a number of officers in those big trucks. If we needed to could get manpower to the scene of an emergency. But, it is times like these that require police and emergency personnel to improvise to get done what needs to get done.”
“At the height of the storm,” he said, “there were times when our officers had to hunker down and stay safe, especially Friday night into Saturday. Conditions were horrendous. It was real bad.”
Gillespie said there was no decrease in police staffing due to the storm, in fact with some officers forced to spend the night on cots in headquarters the 5th District more officers ready to respond than on a normal night.
“Each night it got a little busier,” said Gillespie. “On Friday night, we had a couple of emergency transports, which were folks who needed to be taken to the hospital for medical or mental evaluations,” He said that police also had to respond to two instances which involved DOA over the course of the storm. The death were not storm-related deaths. One was believed to be from natural causes, and the other was believed to be a drug overdose, he said.
“Each night we are getting more and more calls for service,” said Gillespie, “and now more and more people are able to get on the road, and road conditions are not back to normal yet. We expect what melts during the day to refreeze at night and create more hazards. We worry about black ice and cars sliding causing accidents. Also, the roads are not opened up completely, and drivers must share the roadway. We are by no way back to a normal call volume yet.”
Indeed, the high call volume was also felt by the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service, according to senior spokesman Pete Piringer. “Call volume for Monday (which was after the storm) was about 50 percent higher than a regular day.”
While the exact number of incident calls for the Germantown area was not available, countywide MCFRS responded to 470 calls in the 24 hour period on Jan. 25. The department fields about 300 calls on a normal average day. The majority of the calls were medical calls, of which, about half were for advanced life support, and the other half were for basic life support for an increase in injuries due to slips and falls in the hazardous conditions.
For most of the weekend and into the week, MCFRS were running under Condition Red, which means only essential radio communications. This was because so many units were committed on calls, and each call would require more time than usual to complete due to snow piles and weather conditions.
MCFRS EMS crews spend most of the weekend and into mid-week working under Condition Blue, which means that paramedic crews would only transport patients to the closest hospital.
Both the police and fire units had access to dedicated plows which could be used in case the roadways to the emergency were impassable.
In the Germantown area firefighters responded to at least one emergency birth. On Saturday morning, a resident went into labor and had to be transported to the hospital by fire engine after an ambulance broke a chain and got stuck in the snow. The mother gave birth at Holy Cross Germantown and both mother and daughter doing well.
Thankfully the UpCounty area did not experience any major structure fires or roof collapses, which was the case in other parts of the County. MCFRS did respond to a small structure fire on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 11641 Scottsbury Drive in Germantown, which was the result of improperly discarded fireplace ashes. According to Piringer, firefighters found smoldering ashes in a cardboard box in the garage of the home.
At shortly after 3:00 pm on Saturday, Jan. 23, as the Blizzard of ’16 continued to dump snow on the region, MCFRS responded to a roof collapse at a barn on Sugarland Road in Poolesville.
Piringer said, firefighters had to battle snowdrifts and use tractors and plows to clear a path to the barn which was located 700-feet off of the main road. Firefighters were able to rescue a dozen horses who were trapped in the barn after the weight of the snow forced the roof to collapse. While two horses needed medical attention, no humans were injured in the collapse.
The County’s 311 System was also experiencing extremely high call volume during the Blizzard of ’16. The 311 system, which was operating 24/7 – for more than 100 consecutive hours since opening at 6:00 am on Friday before the storm’s arrival – and has handled thousands of resident questions and requests.
On Monday, January 25, the 311 system received 24,915 calls, representing more than ten times the 2,000 calls received during a normal, busy day. During a half-hour period on Tuesday morning, from 9:30 am - 10:00 am, 2,264 calls were received in thirty minutes—more calls in a single half hour than the system normally handles in an entire day.
Top: Countywide, MCFRS responded to 470 calls in the 24 hour period on Monday, Jan. 25.
Next: MCPD were on patrol throughout the Blizzard of ’16.
Next: The collapsed roof of a barn in Poolesville requried MCFRS to battle snowdrifts and use tractors and plows to clear a path to the barn which was located 700-feet off of the main road. Photo courtesy MCFRS.
Next: MCFRS EMS were operating under Condition Red and Condition Blue for most of the weekend and through mid-week, due to the volume of calls.
Photos of Germantown Pulse.