Engine 6 Tackles Nemo—Flake By Flake
by Paul Bass | Feb 10, 2013 5:36 pm
Posted to: Dixwell, Newhallville, Winter Storm Nemo
An ambulance was stuck in the middle of Shelton Avenue three blocks ahead. The fire crew would need to find an alternate route to reach an emergency carbon-monoxide call. Or at least get somewhere close enough to walk.
“If we don’t get by that [ambulance] up there,” Lt. Melissa Allen remarked, “we’re dead in the water.”
It was day 2 of New Haven’s scramble to dig out—and keep people safe—in the aftermath of historic Winter Storm Nemo.
Lt. Allen’s crew from the Goffe Street firehouse took it block by block as they bumped along the snow-rutted streets to map out the condition of side streets for public works crews while also responding to emergencies in people’s homes.
Most roads were closed to them because city plows hadn’t yet reached them. Even on the major avenues turns were tight. Marooned, abandoned cars blocked their path again and again.
A ride on Allen’s Engine 6 Sunday afternoon revealed what New Haven emergency workers are facing. While some snowbound New Haveners have started complaining about the prospect of more days without streets safely plowed for driving, crews are toiling as many as 36 hours at a stretch against what’s proving a daunting challenge: digging New Haven out of an historic 34-inch dumping of snow.
This won’t take a day. Or two days. It will take a week at least.
Engine 6’s journey also revealed that some New Haveners are making that job much harder by ignoring officials’ pleas to leave their cars at home and out of the street. Even though the governor lifted a statewide travel ban, the city continues to urge people to avoid driving. Plows have been clearing single lanes on the first two sets of major streets not for car travel, but to enable ambulances and fire truck to reach emergencies.
Like the carbon monoxide call in Newhallville on Sunday. Allen’s crew had to take a circuitous route, then hike.
The four firefighters set out on their mission around 11 a.m. after Assistant Fire Chief Pat Egan arrived at the Goffe Street Station to hand Allen two pieces of paper. One sheet listed some 60 streets, mostly in Dixwell and Newhallville, covered by the station. The other instructed Allen to mark each street with a 1 or a 2: 1 if passable for emergency vehicles, 2 if not. Officials desperately needed that info to prioritize where to send plows.
Firefighter Ron “Noodles” Nardini, 18 hours into a shift that would continue through Sunday night, hopped in the Engine 6 driver’s seat. Allen sat in the passenger seat to guide him; she had worked straight through since relieving a fellow Goffe Street commanding officer, Lt. Teo Baldwin, Saturday morning. Firefighters Mike Gardin and Justin Bialecki, both New Haven natives well into 38-hour shifts, climbed into the back.
The fire truck felt like a bumper car bouncing along the uneven surface of Dixwell Avenue. Nardini steered clear of some passing cars as well as pedestrians filling the streets.
“Argyle!” Allen called to Nardini, who looked down side streets as they drove.
“Impassable,” he reported for Allen to note on her sheet.
That refrain continued as Bialecki and Gardin marveled at the snow-white beauty of New Haven’s landscape. Bialecki gave a thumbs up to a shoveler by a car in front of the old Martin Luther King School; the firefighters spoke of how calm and friendly most people they’ve encountered have been so far since the storm hit.
Lt. Allen flipped open the Panasonic computer at her left as a call came over the radio: Someone living at the Crawford Manor senior tower on Park Street was experiencing chest pains.
Acting on instinct, Gardin and Bialecki leaped like lightning out of their seats. They threw on gear and hopped down into the intersection of Dixwell and Cherry Ann to clear pedestrians and cars out of the way so Nardini could maneuver the firetruck around.
That proved the easy part. Now they had to drive across town as fast as possible.
Usually they’d get there in minutes. But they could drive only so fast Sunday without running into people or cars or sliding off the road. And Allen had to navigate the quickest path on the fly. She directed Nardini down Bassett to Sherman Parkway, where five cars were lined up at a light. No way the truck could fit onto Sherman with those cars there.
“Wave ‘em all on,” Allen commanded. The crew waited for the drivers to slowly pull through.
As the engine made its way past the police academy toward Hillhouse High School, a call came over: another emergency crew had arrived at Crawford. The situation was under control.
Back to the mapping mission.
“OK, Boys & Girls”
Nardini headed back onto Dixwell then encountered an iffy turn onto Shelton Avenue.
“OK, boys and girls,” Nardini called as he kept the engine’s momentum going and slipped through a hydra-headed intersection onto Shelton.
He made it.
“I was being politically correct” with his gender-sensitive “OK,” he noted. Allen makes it a point to remind him he’s not in male-only company.
Plows had reached Shelton and cleared a single lane. But that lane was filling in somewhat again with snow that people were shoveling onto the road.
At Division Street Nardini stopped. Three blocks ahead loomed the stuck ambulance. He wouldn’t be able to drive through.
Meanwhile, another emergency call came in: A carbon monoxide alarm was going off on Newhall Street.
It was 11:18 a.m.
Normally the crew would drive straight down Shelton or else turn right to hit a side street. Those options were closed.
Instead Allen directed Nardini left onto Division, back onto Dixwell, right again on Bassett.
At 11:25 a.m. they arrived back a few blocks north on Shelton—to find three cars stuck and abandoned right in the intersection.
They’d hit the end of the road. They were a good half-mile or so from the home on Newhall. They’d have to walk from here.
Nardini stayed with the truck while Gardin, Bialecki and Allen headed up Bassett to Newhall.
It turned out that driving through that intersection wouldn’t have saved much time: One block away, in the intersection of Butler, an Unlimited Towing driver was trying, without much success, to cart away a marooned 4-by-4.
The hiking trio turned left onto Newhall, then walked a few blocks to the corner of Read Street to the home with the sounding CO alarm. A sign on the corner proclaimed “Anne Huckaby Corner” in honor of a community leader who happened to be firefighter Gardin’s grandmother.
A man opened the door to the Newhall house. As soon as the three firefighters entered, Allen recognized the beeping.
“That chirp that you hear right then sir? That chirp’s a low battery,” she told the man. “It has a battery back-up. It’s letting you know your back-up battery needs to be replaced.”
Just to be safe, Bialecki went downstairs, then upstairs, to take carbon monixide readings with a handheld meter. Gardin went outside to check the vents.
A lot of calls have gone that way since the storm: People have received warnings about carbon monoxide poisoning from clogged vents. Allen said she’s glad people are being extra careful even though the visit meant her crew would be diverted another 10 minutes walking back to the truck.
“This is not a quickie,” she reflected about the storm clean-up as she, Gardin and Bialecki trudged back up Newhall. She has worked storms for 17 years as a firefighter and, until recently, a driver for a private plow outfit on the side. She’s never seen one like this. “Look at this snow. People think they’re being passed over [on plowing]; it’s not that simple.”
Nor was returning to the truck so simple. When the trio returned to Shelton and Bassett, they found Nardini (pictured) outside the engine and a tow-truck blocking the intersection.
The tow driver was trying to extricate an abandoned Volkswagen Jetta, its window smashed by a vandal.
Bialecki and Gardin picked up shovels and helped clear the way.
Finally the vehicle was towed. But there was still lots of snow in the street, too much for Nardini to be able to turn around the truck. So the group watched a parks department driver plow and clear the way.
It was 12:08. Nardini turned around the truck, and they were back on their way down Bassett.
For half a block. Some guy driving a Honda in the other direction swerved, then was stuck. He stormed out of his vehicle, slamming the door.
“This is why they don’t want you to drive,” Allen reflected from inside the truck.
Bialecki and Gardin hopped out, pushed the driver’s Honda out of trouble. For now.
Engine 6 was back on its way.
The crew headed back to Goffe Street. Along the route, Allen had managed, with the help of observations from cops and plow drivers, to collect information on all her streets.
Spirits were high as the truck passed Sherman and approached the turn to Goffe.
“I love this job,” Bialecki reflected. “Thirty-eight hours in, it’s still the best job in the world.”
Lunch was waiting at the station.
“OK, guys. We’ve got 10 minutes to eat,” Allen informed them. Then it was back to the work of getting New Haven back to normal.
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A bunch of us just helped a police car at was stuck on Norton. The car appears to not have snow tires and also lacked chains. It’s almost unbelievable that such vehicles would be so poorly prepared for snow and ice conditions. Maybe they could have used the squad rifle to blast away the ice under the tires.
It’s great to see our firefighters out there, in my life here in new haven they are a reliable as it gets in spite of all the rhetoric in the papers. Take care of them John don’t commit a second sin like the police officers contract
Where are state plows? Where is national guard? Where is leadership from city hall, communication with state authorities, sense of urgency? NHI is playing cheerleader but should be asking why, for 2nd time in 3 years, New Haven is unable to respond to snow emergency. It really seems like city hall just doesn’t care or see how lack of access to roads effects real people (not talking about cute east rockers walking on Orange Ave on way to grad school labs).
As a Fire Fighter for the city I’m offended the State Plows were plowing the state roads in the city, the national guard was transporting patients in Humvees and the city leaders were in the EOC directing it all and doing one HELL of a job. Where were you? Probably safe at home because we do what we do. Thanks, Lieutenant Gary W. Cole
FrontStreet- when you live in a city filled with people that have no fear of police or laws you find yourself in this situation of wondering “what if”.
Until people actually start investing their own money into this town nobody will really care what happens. Unfortunately, even at an all time low for property value, people would rather rent so they can leave town ASAP.
This storm was big but there are about 1000 cities in the USA that get this weather every year so its time to learn from them instead of ignoring reality like usual.
No, Mr Cole, I was out shoveling a 40 x 3 meter path from my secondary street to Front st because I need to be at work tomorrow morning (essential medical provider) and I absolutely don’t trust the city of new haven to get the job done.
Well this essential medical provider brought his wife the other essential medical provider to the hospital Friday at 4pm, after leaving our 3 small children at a friends so we can both work 36 hours straight before returning to get the kids, trudge a 1/4 mile through the snow to carry our children back to our car then trudge through the snow in our driveway so we could all finally sleep in our own beds. Oh did I mention this was after I spent 21 hours standing on top of and outside a payloader to dig out Front Street so you have a chance of getting to work tomorrow.
@ FrontStreet: The National Guard is working. They drove my neighbor—an ER doctor—to the hospital for his shift after he hiked to the nearest clear roadway. I have also been in touch with my co-workers across the state and many, many roads have not yet been plowed. This not a “New Haven” problem—it takes time to clear away three feet of snow. Please smile and wave at the crews when they do make it to your street!
Gary Cole, some people will never appreciate what is done for the. I do, so “thanks.”
Thanks also to the NHI for this good report.
I mus say New Haven has done a pretty good job of clearing most streets, utilizing all resources in spite of record snowfall in a very short amount of time. Surrounding towns arent nearly as clear as New Haven; it does seem the city was able to accuire many more State resources. There are people working non stop to get the city moving and have been highly effective.
...as a sidenote where are these mythical tires and chains that would allow a crown victoria NHPD cruiser to speed right thrown 35 inches of snow fall, i need to invest in the company that designs that.
Also, a littler self determination and hard work isnt bad for ya, what else do u have to do today, plop yourself in front of the tv to watch people you dont know dressed in pretty clothes get awards for junk music? Get out and shovel and stop relying on someone else for everything in your life
The snow tires and chains would help for the vehicles getting stuck after the plows have cleared most of the snow, which was the situation I described and most of the trouble for the past 24 hours.
posted by: streever on February 11, 2013 4:56pm
Well done. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I’ll explain this one again.
Those cities have those resources because people don’t mind paying for something they ACTUALLY use MANY times a year.
If you honestly want New Haven to maintain the type of equpiment and infrastructure needed to handle this type of storm (a once in a century storm) you can start doing the budgeting for us.
Let me know where you find a few spare million dollars. I’d love to get in on that scheme.