First responders always ready to react to storms

First responders in Sussex County were busy dealing with the effects of the snow and high winds from Thursday’s storm.
(Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

DOVER — As a light dusting of snow fell Wednesday night, Matt Sliwa wondered what he would awake to the following morning.

Selbyville’s fire chief peered out his window Thursday and found out.

“The biggest issue is snow combined with wind,” he said. “I’m looking at my neighbor’s front yard across the street and see a grassy area with a two-foot (snow) drift right next to it.”

First responders proceeded with caution as the day began in southern Sussex County, where conditions worsened throughout the day.

“The snow is powdery right now and not hard to get through, but it may take a little extra time to get there,” Mr. Sliwa said early Thursday.

Just in case, Selbyville had a couple four-wheel drive vehicles to assist crews if called upon.

Preliminary numbers indicated Sussex County caught the brunt of the storm, with 22 disabled vehicles and a property damage accident reported between midnight and noon, according to Delaware State Police. Heavy snow and high winds persisted and roads were covered with snow Thursday afternoon.

As of midnight Wednesday, there were 17 property damage crashes and 69 disabled vehicles in Sussex County.

Citing “roadway conditions continuing to deteriorate,” at 2 p.m. Thursday, Gov. John Carney issued a State of Emergency for Sussex County. A Level 2 Driving Restriction was effective at 1 p.m. and the governor authorized the Delaware National Guard to assist state and local officials however needed.

The driving restriction meant only drivers designated as “essential personnel” may operate a motor vehicle.

The Delaware Department of Transportation said the combination of high winds, drifting snow and extremely cold temperatures would require a prolonged cleanup. Crews continued to focus on plowing primary roads Thursday afternoon.

Waiting to respond

In Kent County, where blowing snow also created issues, police said, one disabled vehicle was reported in the 12-hour span.

At midnight Wednesday in Kent County, there were three reported property damage crashes, two injury crashes and eight disabled vehicles.

While snow and high winds remained in New Castle County Thursday afternoon, roads were wet and slippery but mostly clear. Three property damage accidents were reported between 10 a.m. and noon. Prior to that, there had been 18 reported property damage incidents, an injury crash and one disabled vehicle.

In Dover, some city firefighters stayed at the station overnight in case of emergency. Three calls they received — for a broken pipe, gas leak and malfunctioning alarm —weren’t out of the ordinary or considered high volume.

So Dover Fire Department personnel mostly sat and waited as the hours slowly passed.

“Just hanging around can seem a little tedious but we have a nice pool table and ping pong table that are available,” Dover FD Chief Carleton “Buck” Carey Jr. said Thursday. “Of course you always have to keep the snow shoveled away from the station too.”

Just to be safe, firefighters planned to remain overnight Thursday. They dealt with an electrical hazard response, but nothing else.

“We will play it by ear until daylight breaks and then see what the present conditions are,” Mr. Carey said. “It can be a problem if there’s over a foot (of snow) but hopefully that much doesn’t come in.”

No first responder was complaining about a lack of calls.

“In our line of work we’d rather be bored than busy,” Harrington Volunteer Fire Company Deputy Chief Earl “Kenny” Brode said.

The day before, however, the company dealt with separate two-alarm fires, assisting companies in Milford and Denton, Maryland. Harrington crews helped ventilate a burning structure in Milford and a tanker spent an hour in Denton assisting to control a blaze in a single-family home.

Also, an alarm malfunction at the Harrington Raceway & Casino required a response and members staffed the station as the storm arrived.

During a fire in Greenwood, Harrington backed up the local company by sending an engine to its station.

Overall, the Harrington company described Wednesday’s volunteer work as “steady” on its Facebook page.

Proactive assistance

Mr. Brode, also a captain in the Harrington Police Department said extra officers were on duty to proactively check on businesses and aid any stranded motorists within town limits.

“There’s usually less to respond to because people mostly stay off the road,” Mr. Brode. “We have patrols out to assist anyone who needs it.”

From midnight to nearly noon, the Smyrna-based American Legion Ambulance Station 64 Inc. responded to nine non-weather related calls, including a death and separate vehicle accident at 4 a.m.

“That’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Ambulance Service Director Brad Gosch said.

There was a weather affect, however, “The crews out on calls, they’re taking their time (to be safe) for sure.”

As always, two ambulances were available 24 hours a day and no personnel adjustments were needed.

“We don’t really up the crews unless they’re calling for feet (of snow).”

With temperatures expected to drop significantly in the next few days, Mr. Gosch said the growing icy conditions could lead to slip and fall accidents requiring attention.

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