First responders prepare for Dorian
Published 5:01 pm Thursday, September 5, 2019
Standing in front of a crowded room within the Roanoke Island Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday night, Fire Chief Talmadge Jones asked for a show of hands.
One of many similar meetings taking place throughout the county as Hurricane Dorian inches its way toward the Outer Banks, Jones wanted to know how many first responders would be available to answer calls.
After confirming how many volunteers would still be around for calls from the north station in Manteo and who will be available in Wanchese for south station calls, Jones went over a list of storm preparation activities. Most, if not all, had already been taken care of.
When contacted Wednesday morning, Jones said it’s important to make sure everything is in order well in advance of any approaching storm.
“That includes making sure the trucks are fueled and our generator propane tanks have enough fuel so we can have power if the lines go down,” said Jones. “We also make sure the chain saws are in working order and that we have the proper safety gear and other related equipment in place.”
During the storm, calls are evaluated based on current weather conditions, wind speed and the level of the emergency.
“We try to respond as long as the trucks are not in high water unless it is absolutely necessary,” added Jones.
Even so, there is a limit to emergency responses.
“We don’t send ambulances out on the road with winds in excess of 50 mph,” said Dare Emergency Medical Services director Jennie Collins. “That kind of wind can flip an ambulance.”
Collins said her department, as does others, has standard operating guidelines with different alert levels based on expected conditions.
“We start messaging well in advance of a storm to have staff get their personal preparations taken care of,” said Collins. “Then, as the storm approaches we look at where staffing is needed and try to station people close to where they live.”
Collins said there are also efforts to have people and equipment in areas known to be cut off by flooding.
Another concern EMS faces is the helicopter. Collins said when winds are expected above 110 mph, it is moved somewhere west until conditions improve. Wednesday morning, Collins said current plans are to keep the helicopter here with every call evaluated before it goes airborne.
Collins said there is also a high level of coordination with Dare County Social Services.
“Social Services does an excellent job of reaching out to their clients to prepare them in advance of a storm,” Collins continued. “That helps limit the number of EMS calls during a storm.”
Prior to a storm’s arrival, local law enforcement spends much of their time making sure traffic is evacuated out safely. Like other agencies, police officers respond to calls during level one, two and three storms up to the point the responder’s life is in jeopardy.
Because there is no place in Dare County rated to shelter in a class five storm, during the most extreme conditions, even sworn officers may have to evacuate.
“If we do evacuate,” said Kill Devil Hills Assistant Police Chief Dana Harris, “we take what we can and store any other equipment in a safe place and leave in a group to another part of the state. “Once the storm passes we return with help from the National Guard or somebody else.”
Harris said while town staff and the public are encouraged follow an evacuation order, police officers signed on to work during such trying times. He then stressed that during extreme weather conditions officers are stationed in safe places.
“Police officers that do this do it because they want to protect people,” added Harris. “They’re not here just for a paycheck. They sign up for things like this so they can help people in need.”