The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Monday, Feb. 2, 1998


Locals saw devastation firsthand

By Jason Pero
Herald News Intern

After Dave Jones traveled to northern New York this past month, he said he had never ex-perienced a situation as bad as the ice storm that crippled Northeast states.

``It was devastating,'' said Jones, a paramedic with Rural Metro Ambulance Co.

He said the experience of working with local tornado victims in 1985 and the ice storm were the worst disasters he has ever seen.

``They were desperately in need of our help,'' he said.

Volunteers from Pennsylvania Power Co., Clark, and Rural Metro went to northeastern New York to assist those affected by the storm.

``It looked like a tornado came through and took the tops of trees off,'' said Michelle Munger, also a paramedic with Rural Metro.

The ice storm in the northeastern United States and Canada left millions of residents without power for nearly two weeks.

The storm first hit Jan. 6 and Penn Power received a call from Niagara Mowhawk Electric a few days later asking for help.

Penn Power sent 18 employees to help restore power and heat to the area. Employees were asked to go on a volunteer basis.

The crews arrived Jan. 10 in the Saranac Lake Area in the Adirondack Mountains.

A typical day of work lasted from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The team installed new electrical poles, crossarms, new wires and other equipment damaged by the storm, said Ken Gawne, a foreman with the company. Temperatures never rose above 20 degrees while they were working.

About 150 employees from various companies were working in the area that Penn Power assisted.

``Most facilities weren't along the road,'' Gawne said. ``They were in rural areas so the workers had to climb the poles themselves.''

The damage to utility lines was evident even to the parmedics.

``Several inches of ice were on top of everything,'' Jones said. ``There was a point where we didn't see a telephone pole for twenty miles.''

More than 20 miles of damaged poles were installed or repaired during the 10 days the local men were lending a hand, Gawne said. A second repair team, who stayed in the area for a week, from Penn Power was sent just as the first team returned.

``It was very much a team effort,'' Gawne said. ``The guys knew what they had to do. We got a lot accomplished in the time we were there.''

Penn Power's efforts are part of a mutual assistance program, which the electrical industry established several years ago. A power company affected by a major storm can call neighboring facilities to receive help.

Penn Power received help in 1985 when the tornados hit Mercer County.

``This (situation) happens regularly when the need arises,'' said Joe Bobbey, the director of communications services for Penn Power. ``We may not have sent a team to New York if a storm came here.''

Rural Metro ambulance service sent five paramedics to northern New York for one week. The crew worked when and where they were needed. They mainly served as a relief team for the local paramedics.

The crew would primarily respond to 911 calls, rescue accident victims and provide relief to local crews whenever needed. They were on call 24 hours a day during their stay.

Carbon monoxide poisonings were a major problem the paramedics encountered. People improperly heated their homes with kerosene heaters or charcoal grills. Another problem was the theft of power generators. Generators were stolen on a daily basis.

``Everyone was really happy to see us and made it a point to thank us (for our help),'' Jones said.

Rural Metro's relief crews were sent as part of its National Disaster Response Team. Paramedic teams are sent to areas hit hard by a national disaster.

Volunteer efforts were made because in the event of a local disaster, crews from outside areas would be brought in to help.

`It boils down to it could happen to anyone,'' said Jones. ``You have to give a little to get a little.''

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Updated Feb. 2, 1998
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