(Eastham, MA., Feb. 2022) - When a winter storm blows down trees and knocks out electricity or a multi-vehicle accident snarls traffic on Rt. 6, Eastham’s Public Safety departments that include Police, Fire and DPW are the first to respond. In fact, that response can be so seamless to the average onlooker, that there’s a well-earned level of trust, even confidence that the people responsible for protecting the townspeople will once again bring things back to normal.
By the time you hear an ambulance siren in the distance or see a DPW crew setting up traffic signs to redirect traffic or police cars blocking the scene, dozens of actions have taken place behind the scenes. Dispatchers are fielding calls and sending the appropriate response; police and fire are securing the scene, caring for victims, and calling in help as needed; and the DPW and other departments are providing support for the first responders.
“In Eastham, Public Safety is key, and we work hard to prepare for any possibility with planning and providing the tools and resources that our people need to be effective,” said Jacqui Beebe, Town Administrator. “Recently we upgraded our Dispatch Center, we will soon replace our older ambulances with newer models, we added a smaller fire engine to respond to fires in less accessible areas, and we continue to provide emergency training for a variety of scenarios for all our Public Safety workers.”
Eastham’s Public Safety committee meets regularly to discuss issues, develop standard operating procedures and review past incidents to improve their response. While each has its own individual responsibilities, their goal is for the Town departments to work together as one unit when a major incident arises.
“We have a great relationship with all the Town Departments,” said Adam Bohannan, Eastham Police Chief, “There are no egos here. Everyone works well together. All we have to do is ask and it’s taken care of.”
Bohannon remembers a few years ago when he was the first to arrive on the scene where a large truck pulling a trailer with an excavator jackknifed, flipping the trailer, and stopping traffic both ways on RT. 6 near Cumberland Farms. “I knew this was going to take some time to sort out,” he said. “The first thing I did was to call the DPW to redirect traffic around the crash scene and within what seemed like 10 minutes traffic was being diverted and under control.” The driver was uninjured, so the police were then able to investigate and clear the accident scene while fire fighters dealt with a fuel spill from the overturned excavator. Within about 6 hours the scene was cleared, and RT 6 was reopened.
The closing of RT 6, the main artery from Provincetown to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, is among the worst-case scenarios because emergency vehicles coming from Provincetown through Eastham must detour on backroads around the blocked area. The faster the local response, the faster the incident can be cleared, and emergency and regular traffic can flow freely.
When the Blizzard of 2022 hit the Cape during the last weekend in January, Eastham Police, Fire and DPW officials had already gathered during the days before the event in the Town’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Police Station to discuss what assets were available and to prepare for the upcoming storm. It was clear from the weather forecasts that the storm would be significant and there would likely be storm damage and outages. The group decided almost immediately to increase
staffing to handle the surge in emergency calls and the eventual heavy snowfall and damage from falling trees and wires. Storm protocols were followed to prepare Town vehicles, gather supplies, and pool resources.
Chief Bohannan used the Code Red system to inform townspeople about the extent of the damage and estimates of when power would be restored from information provided by Eversource. As the storm grew more intense, he urged residents to stay home to allow the DPW to clear the roadways and Eversource crews to restore power.
During the middle of the storm when the power failed at the Police Station, the ultimate challenge arose when their generator stopped working knocking out communications and the Emergency Control Center itself. It took just a matter of minutes to transfer the local dispatch center calls to the State 911 system but several hours to secure and connect a temporary generator. While waiting, officers were able to run one light and the phone system on a small portable generator while dispatchers used portable radios and flashlights to communicate with emergency personnel until the large generator was connected. To their knowledge, the dispatchers never missed a call.
In the meantime, Fire and Rescue responded to 60 emergency calls in a 24-hour period ranging from cardiac arrest to carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical calls resulted in several runs to the Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis with a trip that normally takes 40 minutes almost doubling in blizzard conditions. Besides the medical calls, fire fighters were also called out for a chimney fire.
“We staffed up with four additional people to prepare for the storm,” said Dan Keane, Fire Chief, “and we were running non-stop for most of the weekend. The heavy snow and ice brought down a lot of wires and trees making it even more difficult for fire and police to respond but the DPW and Eversource were there to support us.”
The DPW’s heavy snowplows worked 24/7 to keep the roads as clear as possible despite the drifting snow and downed trees. They alerted the EOC when they came upon downed wires or other obstructions so that Eversource, tree removal crews and mobile DPW crews could be dispatched. DPW crews in smaller pick-up trucks with plows where able to clear areas the larger plows couldn’t reach, pulled smaller debris from the road and set-up signs to redirect traffic where needed.
“During an event like a major storm the DPW’s job is to support the police and fire departments in any way we can so that they can focus on what they need to do,” said Silvio Genao, DPW Superintendent. “There’s a lot of effort that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t see just to get to the place where we can respond, but the best part is that everyone wants to help.”
As more homes lost electricity, warming and charging centers were opened at the Town Library and Nauset High School. Staffing at the Library included employees from the Library, Recreation Department, Select Board member Jamie Demetri, the Town Administrator and resident and shelter volunteer Nathan Garran. Council on Aging vans were also available for transportation.
In all more than 50 town employees from police, fire, DPW, library and COA working around the clock were involved in the Town’s Public Safety response to the blizzard. In less than 48 hours all streets were open, power to the Town had been restored and it was back to business as usual.
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