In advance of the storm the building was prepared and secured for rain and high winds. Several years ago the squad installed a generator large enough to power the entire building to ensure adequate communicate and response during power outages. The generator was serviced, tested, and prepared for extended operation prior to the storm. The property was cleared of outside fixtures and debris that might become wind driven projectiles. Squad Captain Kari Phair and several squad lieutenants participated in on-going Emergency Response meetings with City officials. Kari then remained at the City’s Emergency Operations Center during the storm.
While the squad had been well prepared for Hurricane Irene last year, there were still a few lessons learned from that storm that helped this year’s effort. Most notable were the loss of power to the homes to so many of our members and the resulting communications issues along with the difficulty traveling to the squad building due to numerous downed trees and wires.
As a result, plans included soliciting members to volunteer for extra crew assignments at the building. Food and living supplies were gathered to accommodate volunteers staying at the building for extended periods. For 11 days, two 12 hour operational periods were each staffed with three full ambulance crews, a primary response crew and two back-up crews. The crews were required to respond from the building over night, necessitating bunking on the floors and couches since the squad does not have sleeping facilities. Although volunteers often respond to emergencies from their homes, the potential hazard of the immediate storm dictated safe responses from the squad building.
On the night of the storm, ambulances were parked backwards in their bays to minimize damage in the event wind blew in the garage doors. The Squad building remained on generator power for 8 straight days. After utility power was restored for a few hours, it was lost again and the generator powered up with no trouble for an additional 3 days. During that time, the squad building also served as a warming and charging station for the many members with no power at home. Several battery chargers were set up with spare radio batteries to allow members to keep their squad radios working. A large dry erase board was continually updated with the street closures in town; at one point over 50.
During the next 10 days, the squad responded to 108 emergency calls; more than double the normal call volume. “We often had two ambulances (and crews) responding simultaneously, and sometimes three. Several calls were related to Carbon Monoxide (CO) exposure, usually from portable generators.” said Squad President John Christmann. There were also a few falls that may have been the result of poor lighting in homes with no power and at least 1 call to assist a resident using in home oxygen. But, the bulk of the calls were typical medical or trauma emergencies.
Squad operations were not limited to Summit. The night before the storm was due to hit, squad members responded with 2 ambulances to help evacuate Hoboken University Medical Center. After a request from the State Police, the Squad also assembled a crew for deployment to southern New Jersey, although that request was withdrawn after 30 ambulances from Pennsylvania were made available.
During the second week of power outage, call volumes returned to normal, although additional volunteers monitored calls to respond from their homes as necessary. Just last night, the squad answered 3 simultaneous emergency calls with off duty members responding to answer the 2nd and 3rd calls.
Squad Captain Kari Phair was very complimentary to all of the members who served during the storm and it’s aftermath; 62 in all. But, most members will be quick to point out that it was the efforts of the long time Squad Captain that really made the plan come together.