After days of feeling trapped by mounds of white snow, Hill neighbors witnessed a RED HORSE gallop to their rescue.
Neighbors on Plymouth Street watched Wednesday as Air National Guard’s 201st Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (RED HORSE) Squadron removed piles and piles of snow from their block.
The 201st hit town Wednesday with a crew of 27 men, three tractor trailers, a payloader, a backhoe, three Bobcat skid-steer loaders, two Humvees, a repair truck, three pick-ups, and a passenger van. They came to help with clean-up after Winter Storm Nemo deposited an historic 34 inches of snow on the city over the weekend.
The 201st came up from the Hershey, Pennsylvania, area on Tuesday and spent the night on a base in Niantic. Half of the squadron headed to Hartford on Wednesday. The other half headed to New Haven. The squadron has recently helped out with domestic disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and has been to the Middle East three times in recent years, doing construction work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The squadron got off to a slow start, as the day was characterized by repeated delays. By 10 a.m., the tractor trailers were still negotiating turns to get to the staging area off of Woodward Avenue in the East Shore. Once there, Yale Forestry grad Staff Sergeant Nate Reagle marveled at being back in New Haven six years after he graduated. He pulled out his cell phone to try to get in touch with his old professors.
The 201st received their marching orders and rolled out as a police-escorted convoy. The line of trucks headed to Westville, where the city had asked the airmen to clear streets.
After the crew unloaded the payloader and backhoe near the Yale Bowl, the first order of business was to shape a snowbank into a snow ramp to unload the Bobcats.
While the backhoe operator worked on that task, two other airmen handed out Meals Ready-To-Eat (MREs) for lunch on the go.
But no sooner was the snow ramp ready than plans changed. The city wanted the 201st in the Hill, not Westville.
Chief Master Sergeant George Flick explained the new plan to his men, asking them to keep a good attitude despite the mission’s inefficiencies. “We’ve seen this before,” he said. Emergency situations aren’t neat and tidy.
Just before 1 p.m., the convoy headed to the fire department’s training academy on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, where the airmen set about building another ramp in the middle of a parking lot.
After 45 minutes of labor, the ramp was ready.
The Bobcats rolled out just as a couple of photographers from the Connecticut Air National Guard arrived.
The squadron rolled out across the Boulevard and set to work on Plymouth Street.
The payloader and backhoe scooped up snow and deposited it into waiting trucks.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, worked carefully around parked cars whose owners couldn’t be found to move them.
“It’s about time,” said one neighbor, standing on a porch and watching the progress. “But it’s kind of cool.”
Chief Flick helped a neighbor get into her car.
At about 3 p.m., the squadron experienced some gratitude in the form of several large pizzas that showed up to feed them.
Chief Flick said he doesn’t know how long the 201st will be in town, but it could be as many as 10 days. At the 5 p.m. briefing in the Emergency Operations Center, public works chief Doug Arndt said the city will ask the airmen to work around the clock.