In the days following Hurricane Irene, all roads seemed to lead to fire trucks blocking the pathway to unknown dangers. On each side of the blockades, residents asked, “What happened? Downed trees? Power lines?”
In Augies Numero #1Restaurant on Germantown Road late Sunday afternoon, exhausted firemen sat down to eat and rest after a harried day. One weary fireman said, “I don't think I will ever get home again.”
Only a mere three days later, most of the damage from Hurricane Irene is under control, and Fire Chief Geoffrey Herald and Deputy Fire Chief TJ Weidl recount harrowing moments and the state of recovery in Danbury today.
“The biggest challenges we faced were road closures,” said Weidl. “People were going past barricades into unsafe areas, and if they got stuck, we had to get them out. We still have standing water, and we don't want people driving through that. All it takes is an inch too deep and it can kill the engine.”
When the firemen encountered water, they had to back the trucks out. “When there is standing water, if we can't see the road markings, we can't go into it. You don't know if the road is washed away under the water. I don't think we saw that in Danbury, but it was happening throughout the state,” said Weidl.
“There were wires down that we didn't know if they were live. We are still trying to keep track of road closures. We had to reroute the trucks when they didn't fit under the trees. In some cases, we had to redistrict to get help there as quickly as possible,” said Weidl.
“The most treacherous part was not knowing what we were going to go through,” said Herald. “We had to determine if it was safe with the wires down. One place had a chain link fence that was electrically activated by a downed wire. We couldn't tell by looking at it, but we have an instrument for that. Even trees can be electrically charged.”
According to Herald, this hurricane marked the first time in his memory that there were landslide warnings in Connecticut. “The ground was so wet, the roots couldn't hold, and trees just tipped over.” The warnings came through the United States Geological Survey.
Weidl said that there are still people without power. “A day or two without power isn't that bad, but the more time goes on, it becomes a bigger issue for them.”
“We are still filling water buckets for people,” said Fire Chief Herald. “We're just about back to normal. The sheer number of calls has dropped. From Sunday through Monday, about a 35 hour period, we received 203 calls, about five or six times more than usual. The busiest part was during the strongest winds, and we had to be careful where we sent the trucks. We had to watch out for the safety of the respondents, the citizens, and still maintain our ability to get to people who needed us. We also had all the regular calls on top of that.”
“We are still at an elevated level of normal,” said Herald.