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.”