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During Irene, Early Preparation Helped Fire Companies, EMS

Fire companies and rescue squads hit the ground running during Irene.

It is a year since Hurricane Irene battered the area, flooding roads, knocking down trees and cutting power to thousands—and fortunately most of the clean-ups are complete in Bridgewater.

Bill Rose, with the Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department, said there are no continuing clean-ups in Martinsville after firefighters spent days mitigating last year.

“We were pumping out cellars, fixing exposed roads,” he said. “There are no roads closed at this point, and we continue to maintain the equipment necessary for that [kind of clean-up].”

Rose said the department got more pumps last year, which helped the firefighters when they had to pump out flooded basements.

“It proved a great benefit to us,” he said. “We continue to be equipped to handle the challenge successfully.”

When the storm hit, Rose said, the department was in good shape when it came to dealing with the damage and reacting to the community’s needs.

“There were widespread areas out of power because trees took lines down, and that created flooding issues because sump pumps weren’t working,” he said. “There was also debris washed down in gutters.”

Fortunately, Rose said, in a storm prior to Hurricane Irene, FEMA gave money to the department to replace and upgrade pumps, which benefited the team in 2011.

“We were able to spend money to get extra generators, and had the ability to send more crews out simultaneously,” he said. “The lesson we learned is to keep in touch with all the crews.”

For Chris Ireland, chief of the , he saw the widespread flooding in yards and basements, tree branches down around town and power outages. But he also saw people working together.

“Watching the neighbors come together and help each other clean up, use spare sump pumps to help with some basement flooding or storing food in freezers for those with no power was a clear reminder how strong our community is when we all work together,” he said. “This effort to get the community up and running again made me quite happy to be a resident of the Bradley Gardens section of Bridgewater.”

And, Ireland said, he also saw that many members of the department had to take care of their own homes in the midst of volunteering.

“During Irene, several of our members had to worry about their own homes instead of helping others,” he said. “Some had to clear debris from around their homes, while others were contending with water problems. This naturally took them away from volunteering.”

“Irene sidelining some of our members was definitely a new experience, and I was reminded that sometimes the rescuer can become the one in need,” he added.

Rose said the Martinsville department always has a plan for people to respond in emergencies, and is currently awaiting word on a grant to purchase a standby generator.

“Hopefully w will be selected for that grant, and we can put it in station 2,” he said. “Station 1 already has one, and we want a second unit in Station 2.”

“The one thing we did have a problem with was that some of the roads during Irene were impassable, and Station 2 was independent because we couldn’t get from one to the other,” he added.

Ireland said that during the storm, many members stayed at the building throughout the day, which enabled them to get the ambulances on the road right away.

“It was a great help since it took a few extra minutes for the crew to navigate around blocked roads,” he said. “We will definitely use this approach if needed in the future.”

Ireland said the department would also like to create a list of members available during these weather problems to help other departments quickly and easily.

“The Somerset County Office of Emergency Management sent out these requests via email,” he said. “By the time we got a crew together, other rescue squads had already stepped in, which is a great testament to the quality of EMS in the county. We would like to be able to support our other rescue squads as well, so in the future we will look into establishing a list of members available to provide backup in other areas so they can be deployed quicker and keep up with the speed in which emails can get out and be responded to.”

For residents trying to be ready for any future storms, Rose said one of the most important things is to get an emergency generator to handle pumping for refrigerators and other appliances.

Plus, Rose said, landscaping is important to consider.

“If you have water that runs through the yard in a certain way, that could impact the house,” he said. “Change the landscaping so the water goes in different directions.”

“And have your gutters cleaned,” he added. “These are things normal people don’t think about until the last minute.”

Of course, Rose said, FEMA recommends that residents have a plan in place if necessary to relocate, including having important documents and medications available.

“Have items available if you are away from the house for a couple of days,” he said.

Rose said they are fortunate that no one was injured in the clean-up process, or doing the storm, despite having people driving under downed power lines.

“That brings more risk, and would require us to respond to this additional problem,” he said. “We had enough work on our hands as it was, we didn’t need this extra piece.”

In case of power outages, Rose said, it is extremely important for residents in these kinds of situations to have some kind of portable radio or other method of hearing emergency announcements.

“When the electric goes out, sometimes the phones does or the cell phone does, and we have to revert back to other technologies to keep in touch with what is going on,” he said. “Have battery-powered lanterns, and have spare batteries so you can have some lighting if you need it.”

Ireland said it is important to prepare equipment in advance, making sure that generators are ready to start at a moment’s notice, and that families are familiar with how much fuel is needed to run them for more than one day.

In addition, Ireland said, it is important to have a spare sump pump just in case.

“The local fire departments get inundated with calls for pump outs, and may not be able to get to you for days,” he said. “If you can keep up with incoming water, it is easier than waiting for several feet to be pumped out.”

And of course, Ireland said, have an exit plan in case evacuations are necessary.

“We had interaction with residents that were packing up clothes in garbage bags and trying to wade out of their homes,” he said. “Getting through water can be dangerous. Families in flood-prone areas should have an exit plan and be ready to leave their homes in case water rises quickly. Parking on a street higher than your home can help make sure you have access to a vehicle.”

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