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Storm Prep Changes a Must, Fire Chief Says

While volunteer fire fighters did what they could, communications still problematic, official says.

What has become a recurring theme in the post-Hurricane Sandy world of hindsight, the Washington Township Fire Department aired its grievances about the issue of communications during the clean-up face of the devastating storm.

At the December Washington Township Committee work session meeting, Fairmount Fire Chief Dave Steinel gave a presentation to the governing body on behalf of the township’s three companies, pointing out what the volunteer force accomplished during the two week aftermath period.

Along with the presentation, Steinel sought answers as to why communications deteriorated so quickly at the onset of the storm.

“Dispatch became delayed, and then were non-existent,” Steinel said. “It got to a point where the dispatch center asked us to just call them every 10 to 15 minutes to see if a call came in for us. At one point, communications in town became verbal only."

The lack of operating cell phone towers also became problematic for fire fighters trying to communicate with each other when not at the firehouse, Steinel said.

On top of the disconnect in communication, Steinel said the all three fire companies–Schooley’s Mountain, Fairmount, and Long Valley–were completed isolated from each other and mutual aid companies in nearby towns. It wasn’t until roadways could be cleared that assistance could be found from nearby companies.

“Thank God there wasn’t a serious EMS call in town,” Steinel said.

Steinel said the three companies began preparing volunteers and apparatus alike three full days prior to Sandy touching down in Washington Township. No fire fighters were injured during any calls, but some apparatus was damaged, Steinel said.

New Storm, Same Problems

Since October 2008, Washington Township has endured four major storms that cut power and hindered travel for residents for extended periods of town.

After the ice storm that handicapped much of town in October 2008, the fire departments created a list of needs and requests for changes in the event a major storm occurred again.

Nothing on that list, Steinel said, has changed in four years.

Fire chief Craig Wallenstein said this time of year has shown a recurring theme.

“I think, for this storm, we were most prepared, but October is a troublesome month it seems,” Wallenstein said.

Among the changes Steinel was looking for include a generator for the Long Valley Fire Company, whose building was without power for more than a week. Committeeman Tracy Tobin committed to Steinel that a generator for that building would be purchased in the 2013 capital budget.

As for communications, it’s a work in progress.

“The communications items will be addressed,” said Mayor Ken Short. “We will make accommodations.”

“The communications,” Steinel said. “We gotta do something. We’re a better town than that.”

roger freiday December 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Could be time to re-think that dispatch we did away with LOCALLY ! SAve money elsewhere, like CLOSE a SCHOOL !
Larry Bajek December 17, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Maybe we all should book a trip to an island paridice in preparation of the next storm like Ken Short did.
Larry Bajek December 17, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Maybe we all should book a trip to an island paradise like Ken Short did.
Nolan December 19, 2012 at 03:56 PM
How reassuring! The fire chief says we have no dispatch during the storm, County Emergency Communications was down, AGAIN, in an emergency. They said, "please call every 15 minutes to see if you have a call" sounds like NO public safety. BTW, that means there was no communications for Police. It's OK, Ken says that we're saving lots of money, just don't look at the budget to see how much we're saving.
wt-taxpayer December 20, 2012 at 09:57 AM
well, since the town saved $10K by not doing the school merger study (?) - it could use some cash doing a study that would really help the town - a study about what to do in these extreme storm emergencies - seems like needs to be plans in place that everyone in town knows about and multiple back-up plans that can be followed when communications or other services go out. i, for one, would like to see multiple fixed locations (up the hill and down in the valley) that people can go to for help and support - like the firehouses. quality, long-use generators have to be a priority for municipal locations, like all the fire and police and municipal bldg - with maybe solar panels for long-term cost savings and alternatives to the standard systems. ok. i did my ideas on the plan for $0 - guess we saved some cash here for my 2 cents... well, seriously - all people in the town need to know what options are available when web is down and other systems fail - these can be simply outlined and put into the mail with the next tax bill statements. Get this as a number 1 priority!!! please!

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