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Fire Department Response Hindered by Unplowed Port Jefferson Station Streets

Terryville Fire Department had to “think out of the box” to get to people in need of help.

It took a little help from residents on quads, sleds, shovels and with four-wheel drive vehicles, but firefighters from Terryville Fire Department and local EMS workers were able to get to those in need of assistance during the blizzard, according to a department spokesperson.

Faced with impassable snow-packed streets, first responders – often working long overnight shifts at the height of the storm – had to get inventive.

"We had to think out of the box," said Dennis Whittam, a spokesperson for the Terryville Fire Department.

Whittam described dead-end streets that were "brutal to get to" because they were unplowed and unusual techniques were applied in almost every situation they came across to deal with the snow.

"We got ambulances as far as you can get into it," Whittam said.

That’s when the "out-of-the-box" thinking kicked in.

In some cases they had quad riders and sleds transporting patients to ambulances waiting at the end of a block and residents helping to clear paths.

"We literally carried people get as far as we could," he said.

They also put patients in the chief’s car to get them to help.

Many residents expressed their anger and concern over the situation saying even main roads were still virtually impassable on Monday, three days after the storm began.

One resident who lives in Port Jefferson Station said that it took an hour and a half to get from the Long Island Expressway to her house near Buttercup Dairy.

"Nicolls Road is still in horrible shape, as is Hawkins and Boyle. Never saw a plow or sander in either direction. The ice has now made the roads full of deep ruts, making it difficult to go more than 5 mph," Lynellen Nielsen said in an email to Patch. "It's like driving on a washboard. I can understand how some side streets are not plowed, but these are main arteries."

Another resident described her concerns with unplowed roads in Port Jefferson Station.

"There are many elderly, children, handicapped in the area…" wrote the resident who identified herself as Ms. Eslan in an email.

Eslan said that she and her husband are senior citizens and worried about emergency workers getting to them if needed. Four days after her original email she told Patch that her road was finally plowed.

The problem isn't isolated to this most recent storm. She said that on many occasions the Town plows her street last when it snows "because we are in dead end/cul de sac which is unfair."

"Many times we go un-plowed and have to call up numerous times to get them out there..." Elsan said and called for more accountability for contracted plowers and better emergency planning from local government.

"And of course the life safety of the residents is at stake," she said. "If there was an emergency, the person needing help would have died waiting."

Terryville Chief Keith Olsen reported that from the day the storm started until Monday night the department answered 76 alarms, most were ambulance calls, many complaining about chest pain after shoveling the heavy snow.

“It’s a very real situation,” Whittam said.

Some calls were also due to gas leaks from plows hitting lines.

The most important part?

“We didn’t lose anybody,” said Whittam.

In preparation for the storm, the department was put on standby. Volunteers were asked to come down to the firehouse.

“The chiefs didn’t let the storm get away from them,” he said.

Some stayed for more than 16 hours, lying on couches, inside trucks and wherever else they could find to lay their heads down for some sleep. The department does not have cots for firefighters to sleep on, according to Whittam.

After working their shifts, firefighters had to come home to over two feet of snow, just like everyone else. They went home. Cleaned up. And when a call came in they had to fight their way back to firehouse to respond. Luckily Terryville didn’t have to deal with any fires during the storm, unlike Centereach Fire Department that responded to a fire on Sunday night.

“We know we have to do this,” Whittam said about fire department preparations for the blizzard. “We’ve got a problem to deal with.”

He said many firefighters put their families aside to help their community.

“This is when they come through,” said Whittam. “They’re unpaid professionals. You wouldn’t get any better service with a paid fire department.”

He said that the Town is aware of the difficulties they faced but there was nothing the department could do about it.

“We can’t do anything different than anyone else,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Sue Malso February 14, 2013 at 05:52 PM
Thats sad because the Boyle Rd is probably the nicest part of PJS. The residents deserve their streets to be plowed, they pay taxes dont they?
Jim February 15, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Just wanted to note that Jackie Guma, our daughter, actually took this photo. She's a photography student at Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
Rich Greer February 15, 2013 at 04:43 PM
I also wanted to add that I was part of an engine crew that was stuck & stranded on Jayne Blvd for 5 hours and the town had no payloaders available to help us out.
Lon Cohen February 15, 2013 at 05:21 PM
I will add to the caption that the photo was taken by Jackie! Can you also email me at lon.cohen@patch.com ? I'd love to speak with Jackie about the photo to feature her on Patch. Thanks. - Lon
Donna February 15, 2013 at 08:34 PM
Beautiful photo Jackie!

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