The Continuing Chronicles of the FNG (irl): Fire and Ice …Hot Dogs and Chainsaws

My title kind of sounds like a country song, doesn’t it? All that’s missing is the broken-hearted horse, a ten gallon hat, and the kitchen sink.

We had a pretty damaging and intense ice storm in Albany that started up on Thursday, Dec. 11 at mid-day and finally finished at around noon on the following day. And it didn’t affect just my area either; there was storm damage, cataclysmic power loss and ice and snow buildup all the way from Poughkeepsie to New Hampshire.

Locally in the Capital Region, more than 240,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the storm, and regionally more than one million went in the dark. According to National Grid in this morning’s Times Union, it may be several days before all the power is restored. Folks are getting shuttled into shelters, staying with friends, or in many cases (and this is where I get concerned) using gas-powered generators to keep the lights on. There are 180,000 still without power as of this morning. The newspaper is calling it the worst ice storm in two decades. I believe them. My thoughts and prayers are with those who are struggling to say safe and warm in the aftermath.

The local hardware store owner (would you believe I didn’t have an ice scraper in my car and had to run out for one before I broke ALL the cd cases in my car? Those plastic cases are effective only in the short-term) told me he had sold out of generators in two hours. That got me thinking about how many of those buyers had ever actually used a gas genny before and how many understood that it doesn’t take much to create a fatal carbon monoxide situation or a fire if used improperly. My questions were answered with the flurry of generator-related calls during the night.

This brings me to the chainsaw guy. I have a healthy respect for chainsaws and power saws. We have a chainsaw and a K-12 rescue saw on both our first and second-due engines. Every week at drill, we run all the equipment to make sure all is working as it should, including the saws. I used to avoid taking the saws out back to start them up because they made me nervous. Fortunately one of my officers noticed it, and gave me a full drill night’s worth of “saw familiarity”. I still respect them, but I’m not afraid of them anymore. So we get a call for an “unknown” emergency at a local residence. It was a third-party call at 3:00 a.m. and that can be anything from raccoons knocking over a garbage can to the smell of wood smoke from a chimney. Those third party calls are rarely anything “good”. We were dispatched along with an ambulance (thank god), and we arrived a few minutes before they did.

There were four of us on the rig, so Bill stayed with the engine and the three of us started walking carefully around the property attempting to determine the nature of the “emergency”. Nothing jumped out at us and no one seemed to be around, so we started heading up the path to knock on the owner’s door when we heard “Hey, help…..over here”. We turn and start walking toward the voice when we spot the homeowner….lying on the ground near a downed tree, with a chainsaw lying nearby. The next thing that hit us was that copper-penny smell that only comes with large quantities of spilled blood. Oh you betcha…this was the homeowner’s first time with a chainsaw (wtf??) and he had promptly kicked the saw back into his leg, which opened a very impressive and deep gash in his thigh, spilling and spraying buckets of blood everywhere. 1.) I can’t believe the guy was still conscious and in reasonably good spirits and 2.) We almost mowed down the ambulance team arriving up the path behind us when the three of us did an about-face with tell-tale green faces. It was that bad.

The first of our storm-related calls came at 1:00 a.m…..and I have absolutely no firm grasp as to how many we answered between that time and 12 hours later. I asked our Chief….”how many calls so far?” he replied “Officially? A lot”.

We had power lines down everywhere, arcing wires starting exterior structure fires (as I mentioned to a friend of mine last night….”when do I get to pop my cherry on an actual INTERIOR structure fire?! It’s been a year and I’m still a virgin!” He replied “Patience grasshopper”) trees down, Rollovers, cars in ditches, flooding basements, exploding transformers… short, it was Armageddon in our normally peaceful little village. The volume of calls started picking up in frequency around 4:00 a.m. ---and we stopped returning to quarters as the calls started stacking up like cord wood.

The LA brought us coffee and hot dogs (????) some time around dawn. Nothing says breakfast like a couple of hot dogs slathered with mustard. I was so tired and hungry at that point that I didn’t even remember eating them. I woke up from a nap much later that day completely flummoxed as to why I was burping up mustard. Then I remembered wolfing down two dogs without chewing.

The one moment that stuck in my head that long night was during one of the downed power lines episodes, Ron, Carl and I were at the main intersection in town re-routing and directing traffic, with power lines stretched over our heads from pole to pole. We weren’t chatting much, icicles were forming on our helmets and we were foot-sore and tired. Then………a “CRACK” that sounded like a gunshot exploded over our heads. The three of us froze and whipped our heads up….fully expecting to see a primary line coming straight down on us. Dick, our intrepid driver, called from the safety of the engine in a very calm voice….”Hey guys? You might want to step out of that intersection, just to be on the safe side….” . You’ve never seen three people move that fast….it was like a choreographed Chicken Dance.

The sun is out this morning, which is sparkling off of the ice-encrusted trees like diamonds. How can something so beautiful create such havoc?

Until next time….stay safe, and wear your seatbelts.

*** all photos belong to the Times Union newspaper and their photographers.

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Comment by Engineco913 on December 15, 2008 at 7:51pm
amazing, I was worried when I saw the title... Great storyline Mel. This goes hand in hand with your other blog about black ice.
Storms bring out the worst in some folks. General lack of understanding and panic for the situation cause issues to occur. Busy nights like this happen here also, just not usually ice (thankfully)
Comment by AFD Chief Bradshaw on December 15, 2008 at 4:41pm
I was in Poughkeepsie All week. We kept watching the weather. On Thursday I wrapped up class and got out of dodge. Hightailed it home to WNY byway of Route 17. Glad I missed it. SS/TC/SW
Comment by 144Truck on December 15, 2008 at 12:08pm
Great post from somebody who is operating there without the "News Filter"...... I am simply grateful that we NARROWLY missed the same treatment here Connecticut with only relatively minor icing in the extreme northwest corner....
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on December 14, 2008 at 8:07pm
I am feeling kinda selfish.
I thought I was having a terrible time with my Christmas decorations blowing over FOUR times. I mean, I have made longer stakes, increased the number of stakes, but every time I set them up again, stronger winds come in and blow them over again.
Two years ago, we had an ice storm that knocked our power out for three days. It was the worst three days of my entire life. We had a fire in the fire place, a sheet over the door to the living room to keep the heat in, under blankets, pets Chopper and Bucky under the blankets with us, no hot food. On the third day, the wife was so miserable that she called my sister and asked to come stay with her. I would not leave the pets. Just as she was getting ready to leave, wouldn't you know it; the power came on.
And I was SOOOOO looking forward to the quiet.
I can relate. It sucks to be without power in the cold weather months.
Comment by Paul Montpetit on December 14, 2008 at 5:13pm
HI....good story....BUT...Been there done that.....I think it was our ice storm in 1998...?? I think....we were driving down one highway and it sounded like a series of by one the power poles were snapping off... for almost a mile every pole snapped off....Thoughts are with you.....stay safe.....Paul
Comment by Jeff Betz on December 14, 2008 at 2:51pm
Good stuff Mel, we had a storm like that a few years ago, what a mess. It sure is a funny feeling marching through a very dark yard (no power of course) and hearing a "crack!", and not knowing whether to freeze in place or run like a sissy.
I think we had 138 calls in 24 hours, and we are a career department that runs a duty shift of 6 on duty per day. Needless to say, we had nearly everyone back in on duty, and still had calls backed up. When it's all over and done with though, it makes for great stories to tell in the truck bay.
Comment by Dave Gould on December 14, 2008 at 11:20am
Great story!! I think most of us in the great northeast have lived this scenario at one time or another. Fortunately for us, we were spared this time around. If you need help, yell and we'll come.
Comment by Mary Ellen Shea on December 14, 2008 at 10:34am
um....been there...done that....never again.
Comment by Bob Allard on December 13, 2008 at 8:44pm
By the way nice set of ears, sound like the storm we had in WNY a couple of years ago, but we still had the leaves on the trees which made all the trees heavy with snow and then the ice and you know the rest same as your area, sure hope all is fine at your house, remember if you use the generator to place it no were near a door, as you know about exhaust fumes in the house, please remind all the people in your area.

Anyway take care, and have fun.
Comment by russ allen on December 13, 2008 at 4:03pm
good story and good writing! Man I remember living in the north and dealing with all that stuff! Prayers with you!

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