Mass. first responders bracing for blizzard

New Bedford has extra firefighters, paramedics and EMTs on duty and a 4-wheel fire engine that can go "anywhere, anytime"

By Curt Brown
The Standard-Times

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — SouthCoast is on the verge of its first major storm of the season on Thursday with forecasts of an estimated 8 to 12 inches of snow, followed by howling winds and gusts reaching 60 mph.

And if the snow was not bad enough, the mercury is going to take a nosedive. The temperatures will be stuck in the teens Friday, Saturday and Sunday before it nears 32 degrees on Monday, according to the National Weather Service's office in Taunton.

Vehicles commute southbound on the Garden State Parkway in whiteout conditions during a snowstorm. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Vehicles commute southbound on the Garden State Parkway in whiteout conditions during a snowstorm. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

But regardless of the weather, if there is an emergency — an accident, a medical issue or a fire — first responders will be there.

They will be taking precautions, though, to keep them safe and help them work in these snowy and frigid conditions.

In New Bedford, Fire Chief Michael Gomes will have extra staff working during the storm.

The department's 4-wheel drive fire engine, assigned to Station 7 at Durfee and Cottage streets, will be activated, he said. "It will be able to go anywhere, anytime," Gomes said. If an emergency vehicle is stuck, the 4-wheel drive engine can also be used as a tow.

Chainsaws will be placed on all fire trucks to clear the paths of any fallen tree limbs, he said. The department's 6-wheel vehicle, called "The Ranger," will be used to clear the fronts of fire stations.

Additional personnel are being added to the department's dispatch operations and one will be assigned to the Department of Public Infrastructure, which is the plowing nerve center for the city, he said. The dispatch personnel will be used to coordinate responses in the event of a fire.

Also, the department will pre-stage the community room at the Keith Middle School in case it is needed as a temporary shelter due to an extended power outage, he said. The shelter is not currently activated.

"We are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us," he said.

Starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin A. Gallagher said his department will "double up" with a fire engine and crew responding to ambulance runs. They could be shoveling a path to a house or assisting in carrying a patient over a snow drift.

The "doubling-up," as he called it, will run straight for 24 hours and then they will reassess at 8 a.m. Friday, Gallagher said. They are also asking any off-duty firefighters, and call firefighters, if they are out-of-work from their primary jobs, to assist. Acushnet has three full-time firefighters and three full-time paramedics and 30 on-call firefighters.

Westport Fire Chief Brian Legendre said the severe cold weather places a burden on his equipment and personnel.

If there are any working fires through the period of cold weather, the department's "warming vehicle," as they call it, will respond along with firefighters. The vehicle is a converted mini-bus, donated by Whaling City Transit, where firefighters can get go and get off their feet and warm up for a few.

"It gives them a place to get out of the weather," Legendre said.

The vehicle is also used when there are fires in the summer months because it is air-conditioned. The mini-bus is staffed by volunteers from the town's Emergency Medical Agency, many of whom are retired firefighters.

EMT's and paramedics will be dressed in layers to keep them warm. "If it's an accident on the road, they need to be prepared for that," the chief said.

The cold also poses a threat to the department's pumps, he said. They need to have water constantly circulating through them or else they will freeze and become "a block of ice," he said.

Westport has 23 full-time firefighters and 12 call firefighters.

The Fairhaven Fire Department is adding a third person on all ambulances, starting at 8 a.m. Thursday. They will be used to clear the snow or sand an icy path. The additional personnel will be reassessed as the storm progresses.

All department vehicles are also being equipped with snow shovels and sand and personnel have been advised to layer up.

He is advising motorists to stay off the road as much as possible and shovel the walkways to their homes in the event of an emergency.

Copyright 2018 The Standard-Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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