Some lessons were learned but for the most part, Branford’s first responders were ready for they're also ready for the next storm, said Fire Chief Jack Ahern. Learn how he managed crews from headquarters and the various volunteer departments around town to help get Branford back up and running safely.
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Branford Patch: There’s no doubt that Branford Fire Department was well prepared for Irene. How long out did your crews begin preparations? Do you guys have emergency plans for situations like this already in place?
Jack Ahern: Preparations are ongoing throughout the year via normal training and drills. We ramp up whenever the projected path of a storm comes close to our area. Currently we are watching the progress of the Tropics already.
Branford Patch: From a safety perspective what was the biggest concern you guys had?
Jack Ahern: Our first concern is always life safety. The safety of the public and our crews. Downed, energized power lines were the initial challenge, along with the trees and branches that continuously fell. Water was the next hazard, especially along the coast in the form of road washouts, making it difficult to navigate to incidents. Then the residential washouts and flooding from massive amounts of water.
Branford Patch: Were any fears realized during the storm?
Jack Ahern: Fear is not a word I would use. Through training and planning we knew our high hazard areas, our most vulnerable spots and where we would encounter difficulties. History was on our side and we moved resources where they were needed. The Pawson Park and some Short Beach areas became the biggest challenge as flooding prevented vehicles (including ours) from passing.
Branford Patch: We know that there was almost a need to evacuate Hospice due to the power outage. How did you prepare for that?
Jack Ahern: Through our Mutual Aid agreements and our pact with C-MED we were able to gather the necessary resources needed to move 100 people in a short amount of time. Within an hour we had over forty ambulances on site and ready to move the patients to an offsite, safe location. Fortunately CL&P was able to restore power just before we began the actual move.
Branford Patch: We know FEMA sent you guys many MREs (meals ready to eat) and water. Do you still have supplies for residents in case of another emergency?
Jack Ahern: We do although our experience with MRE’s was not the greatest. The elderly had difficulty opening and using the meals, which was problematic. It was great that we had them however better solutions need to be worked on, especially for the elderly.
Branford Patch: What’s the biggest lesson your department learned from Irene?
Jack Ahern: That with a little perseverance we could accomplish anything. We improvised in many cases including the procurement of food and water and were able to provide essentials without relying on any other government entity. We now know little things like providing charging stations for cell phones and computers was a huge help to people. In the event of another storm this effort will be ramped up even more.
Branford Patch: What are you most proud of your crews for doing during and after the storm?
Jack Ahern: Duration: without a doubt, the countless ours our firefighters spent away from their own family and home was the most admirable demonstration of dedication that I witnessed.
Branford Patch: Most importantly, was anyone on your department or anyone in the public injured during or after Irene?
Jack Ahern: There were injuries to the public both during and post event although nothing was too serious. Some of our crews were exposed to some nasty environments and became sick but again these were minor incidents.