Great Comfort Rarely Brings Great Growth

Since the whole storm-response episode began on Oct. 29, I kept a log of ideas and events which I could be used as the basis for future planning and preparation for future disaster operations.

  1. Inter-agency Communications
  • People must not assume anything
  • Do not issue orders that will require other people to do things for which they are not trained or equipped
  • Do not give away other people's resources without first gaining an agreement that such resources are truly available
  • Set your agreements in place well ahead of time
  • Drill on them periodically
  • If you have to operate on the fly, try to keep your SOPs/GOG's in mind
  • Do not let your guard down when it comes to safety issues
  • Just because it is a declared emergency, do not use that as an excuse to take unsafe shortcuts
  • Make sure that you allocate your operations among the available operational radio frequencies
  • Stay where you belong when operating on the radio
  • Do not hog the radio
  1. Apparatus
  • Make sure that all apparatus and inspected and prepared prior to the onset of emergency operations
  • Make sure that all apparatus are topped off with fuel
  • Drive as carefully as possible
  • Be aware of the impact of any storm may have on the trees and wires which line our roads
  • Do not drive into obviously flooded (or heavy snow-covered) areas
  • Limit the number of pieces of apparatus which are responding to the routine alarm, Carbon monoxide, wires down, and similar calls for assistance (we used our brush truck, our commissioner's pickup, and our fire police vehicle a great deal to check out alarm calls)

Not everyone took the time to get ready for Hurricane Sandy. I know of one local fire department which did absolutely nothing to prepare for the storm. They did not have any extra food at the station, nor did they deem it necessary to mount a storm standby. 

When they lost power, they had to strip one of the generators from their pumper and use it to provide partial power to their building. They didn't have a storm standby and there were a number of runs which they could not answer because they could not turn out a properly-staffed crew. As a matter of fact, their chief told our chief not to count on them for awhile. I guess they were lucky that their citizens never found out how poorly equipped and prepared they were to protect their community.

Unfortunately, there are those fire departments along the Jersey Shore who took a direct smack on the chin. The storm surge was terrible when combined with the new moon high tides. They never really stood a chance. They will come back, but it will take quite awhile. We inland fire departments are doing what we can to help out our brothers and sisters down the shore. My fire company has sent standby equipment and personnel to cover for shore units who needed a break from their storm-battered duties. 

Many among us have experienced a time of great challenge here in New Jersey. Our associates in Delaware, New York and Connecticut have shared in the turmoil. This was not a time of great comfort. It was a time of tremendous challenge during which there was no great comfort level. We all worked hard to get the job done and would be really remiss is we failed to take the lessons learned to make our departments better prepared for the next bad storm. 

Do not waste time. Begin to get ready for the next storm which might not be all that far into the future. Predictions of a greater-than-normal snow season are already coming in from the weather bureaus. The time to prepare for your next major emergency is now. There will be those who try to convince you that planning is not necessary. Pay no attention to them. Get on with getting ready for the next disaster. Take care and stay safe.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., a Firehouse contributing editor, is a fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. He is chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Howell Township Fire District 2 and retired from the Newark Fire Department as a battalion commander. Dr. Carter has been a member of the Adelphia Fire Company since 1971, serving as chief in 1991. He is a life member and past president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and life member of the National Fire Protection Association. He is vice president of the Institution of Fire Engineers-USAmerica. Dr. Carter holds a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN.