Chiefs from the Chappaqua Fire Department came to the New Castle Town Board's work session Tuesday to discuss what challenges they faced during Hurricane Sandy and what improvements could be made for future disasters.
Russell Maitland, first assistant chief, detailed several challenge for the firefighters that were brought on by the fall storm, which left scores of trees and wires down, roads blocked and manpower spread thin. Examples included a call where a fire truck was blocked and could not even be assisted by Con Edison, a case in which firefighters headed through the woods and one in which Maitland recalled having to head to a home with just a fire extinguisher.
“[It] definitely taxed our manpower," Maitland said, adding there were people who probably had about 50-60 hours without an initial break. Compounding the issue were calls of people "crying wolf," with calls that had unimportant matters.
Despite the challenges, Maitland felt that, “all in all it worked out very well.”
In terms of general communication, Maitland felt that it went well with New Castle's police and its department of public works.
“All that stuff ran fairly smoothly."
The meeting with the board was belated because firefighters had to respond to a call when it was originally planned.
Several suggestions were offered for making things run better in future disasters.
Maitland noted that there needs to be a unified command structure in the town's emergency operations center, with people from different town departments and first response entities working collaboratively.
“There's not one person in that room that's in charge. There should be a group of people making decisions.”
The suggestion was met with support from Supervisor Susan Carpenter, who said it was “a really good suggestion.”
Carpenter contrasted the proposal with what the town went through during the storm's aftermath, where the town board thanked officials but did not - it was unintentional - include firefighters in it. She attributed the mistake to a lack of knowing about their efforts.
“It was just, you guys were doing your own thing and you were doing it so professionally, it didn't come to our attention because you just took care of things.”
The other suggestion that Maitland raised would be to have a special dispatch for Chappaqua and Millwood fire calls out of town hall. Normally, a county-wide dispatch system handles their calls, out of 47 fire protection entites.
“That's the only way that we can ensure that everybody knows where we're going," he said.
The rationale for having a local dispatch, Maitland explained, is that the county-based one has to prioritize calls across a larger area and this can be a challenge during an emergency.
When asked by Patch what sort of role Mount Kisco's fire department could have - large parts of eastern New Castle are in its fire district - Fire Chief John Maduras said that they did their own dispatch but were welcomed to set up at the town's EOC. The Mount Kisco Fire Department's coordination with New Castle includes using the radio, phone calls and through the county dispatch, Maitland said.