GOLDENS BRIDGE, N.Y. – Not since Superstorm Sandy was the activity as intense for the Goldens Bridge Fire Department as it was during the recent string of nor’easters that crippled the area with heavy wet snow and gusty winds.
The fire department responded to more than 60 emergency calls—ranging from downed power lines and fallen trees to medical emergencies and structure fires—in the less than a one-week span between the first two storms in early March.
“One of our primary concerns was to make local roads throughout the fire district passable for all emergency vehicles, the Lewisboro Highway Department and power company crews,” said Fire Chief Al Melillo. “Firefighters fanned out into the community, road by road, and used chainsaws to clear uprooted trees and fallen limbs to restore safe passage.”
Throughout the process, the Goldens Bridge Fire Department maintained a real-time list of impassable and hazardous roads—those where downed power lines were entangled in toppled trees—that they shared with other emergency services and town agencies. Melillo cautioned residents to heed road closure barriers under all circumstances.
“These barriers are there to warn people that the road is impassable due to downed power lines or dangling tree limbs,” Melillo said. “You are putting your life, and others, at risk by moving barriers, cones and caution tape to the side of the road. People don’t realize that power lines are often still live after they come down.”
In addition to 911 emergencies, the fire department came to the aid of local residents who were contacting the department’s non-emergency number with a variety of distress calls.
Firefighters pumped several feet of water from a handful of basements; they safeguarded electrical panels and restarted failed emergency power generators for many homeowners, and they even boarded up a resident’s window after flying debris came crashing through.
“You don’t expect firefighters to pump water from your basement, restart your emergency generator, or board up your living room window. But as a community fire department, we have civic responsibilities that go beyond emergency response. We do whatever it takes to help people,” said First Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy McManus, whose EMS training has contributed to his ability to save lives—four, in fact, over the past six months.
“We keep materials like plywood and portable sump pumps on the fire trucks just in case we find ourselves in a position to assist residents that have nowhere else to turn at that moment. We are very fortunate that many Goldens Bridge firefighters are skilled tradesmen,” McManus said, “which makes us ready for every eventuality in these storm events. People are so relieved when we help them in a way they never expected.”
Melillo said that storm preparedness—in both manpower and equipment—was critical to the department’s ability to respond and play such a vital role to the safety and well-being of residents and the community.
During the first two nor’easters, the Goldens Bridge Fire Department scheduled around-the-clock, 12-person standby firefighting crews at the firehouse. Additional firefighters joined these crews during the course of the storms so that there were always 15 to 20 firefighters at the firehouse.
In addition to scheduling sufficient manpower levels to handle the onslaught of emergencies and other non-life-threatening calls, preparedness efforts in the days leading to the nor’easters focused on readying the fire trucks for storm response.
These efforts included installing chains on the tires of all fire trucks and placing a snowplow on Rescue 25 so that it could lead the way for fire apparatus and other emergency service vehicles through unplowed residential driveways and local roads. Firefighters also outfitted all fire trucks—as well as the department’s four-person all-terrain vehicle—with fully stocked EMS bags, defibrillators, chainsaws, shovels and other equipment.
Operating in the reconstructed firehouse for the first full winter season made storm preparedness more efficient and, most significantly, enabled the fire department to staff the firehouse with around-the-clock standby firefighting personnel during these weather events.
“Residents expressed their appreciation and acknowledged the sacrifices that our firefighters make—leaving their homes and being away from their own families, and responding to emergencies through the night in treacherous conditions,” said Fire Commissioner Edward Brancati, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the Goldens Bridge Fire District.
“Our firefighters are thankful for the many opportunities to make an impact on the safety, health and well-being of the residents, businesses and institutions in our fire district. To the average person, these stories are remarkable—responding nonstop to emergencies, saving a life, clearing an uprooted tree from the road at 3 in the morning,” Brancati said.
“But Goldens Bridge firefighters say they are just doing what they signed up for. They don’t look for accolades, but during this last round of Mother Nature’s worst, our firefighters again proved their deep commitment to service and community. Their pride, efforts and dedication certainly should be commended.”
The fire department also worked closely with the Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps, welcoming Capt. Dan Murtha’s offer to station an ambulance overnight at the Goldens Bridge Firehouse.
“That was a real advantage, to have a standby ambulance on this side of town, minimizing travel and enhancing response time. We are grateful to Captain Murtha and LVAC, and will always make room in the firehouse for them,” Melillo said.
A handful of the 911 calls were related to carbon monoxide alarms, according to the chief.
“We found disturbingly high levels of CO at several residences. We immediately vented these homes,” Melillo said. “Residents with emergency generators in close proximity to their houses don’t realize that CO could seep inside, especially when generators are running for a prolonged period. We can’t stress enough the importance of venting your home and changing the batteries in your CO alarm.”
Although none of the medical emergencies were related to the storm, they included a number of elderly residents in some type of distress—including a woman who was too weak to lift herself off the floor after a fall, but banged on a wall to attract the attention of a neighbor, who called 911. Firefighters had to rapidly force entry into the dwelling. They later secured the door after the ambulance transported the woman to the hospital.
Despite four nor’easters in three weeks, Goldens Bridge firefighters did not skip a beat in performing their weekly drills, which vary from week to week, and which included a CPR update class and other county and state-mandated drills and classes.
Stephen Mangione is a public relations representative for the Goldens Bridge Fire Department.