How the West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company
Weathered the Snow Storm of 2010
by Robert W. Elwell, Sr.
It all started with a weather report. The reports started to sound more serious than the run of the mill weather reports that we generally hear during the winter months. The report was for 24 inches of snow and the center of the storm was headed directly for the Delmarva peninsula and the Jersey Cape. Sometimes the news media tends to hype information about pending storms. With the advantage of being able to look at radar on the weather station you have somewhat of a chance to make a decision for yourself. With the weather reports remaining the same and the radar looking ominous, it was time to shift gears and prepare for the onslaught of the storm.
Friday morning, February 12th, as Captain of the West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company, I reached out for Fire Chief Chuck McPherson, and consulted with him as to going into emergency mode for the next couple of days. He was already out delivering oil to his customers, as with his business, he also is a weather watcher. With the weather information at hand it was decided that we would have a standby crew at the firehouse for the next couple of nights so as to make a quicker response should the occasion be necessary. Our action plan was put into effect. Firefighter Andy Hooper was notified to top off all the fuel tanks in the fire apparatus. I headed for the Westside Market to get a food order for the standby crew who would be spending some time at the firehouse. A message was put out later on the firefighter pager's system for available volunteers to report to the firehouse that evening.
As predicted the snow started to fall around 4:30 p.m. but still several of us wondered about the 24 inch report. If true, it would mean possible serious problems for the West Cape May firefighters. One of the more serious concerns was the wind factor, which would relate to wires down that would mean people could possibly be without heat. As always, the faithful volunteers of the all volunteer West Cape May Fire Company responded to the call. As time went by the snow continued to fall, the temperature dropped, and the winds picked up.
The alarms came in many times as the snow and wind continued and wires came down. The volunteers realized that there would be a need for a shelter and quickly shifted gears to set one up in our banquet hall. The next few days were probably the busiest that the fire company has ever seen - not so much in firefighting but responding to "hot wires down". The shelter was set up according to Red Cross Shelter Management Guidelines. The Cape May Fire Department was notified and on request furnished an EMT for the shelter. Chief Sorentino of the Cape May Police Dept. furnished one police officer to be in the shelter. Her dispatch center was starting to get calls from people without electricity and no heat. She had been informed that we would receive people into our shelter who had no other place to go. Cape May's shelter was to be the Cape May City Elementary School but because of a boiler or generator problem the City of Cape May was not going to open a shelter. This meant that the West Cape May Fire Hall was the primary shelter for West Cape May and Cape May. It wasn't long before the Cape May police were bringing people to the shelter and the Cape May Fire Department was transporting people with special needs in their ambulance to the shelter also. West Cape May Emergency Management Coordinator, Dan Rutherford evacuated people in his four-wheel drive vehicle to the shelter as well.
As requested from the American Red Cross, two volunteers finally arrived and we received 40 cots and blankets. As time went by it became very obvious that our number of clients was growing rapidly. Food procurement was going to have to be increased as well as sleeping devices. Stored upstairs in the fire house were Korean War vintage stretchers that were brought down and later put in use as cots. More cots and blankets were ordered from the Red Cross National Relief Center through the County Emergency Management. As time went on, the storm would bring us many elderly people who could not stay in their homes without heat or electricity. The average age of our wonderful clients was 85. But all were cheerful and happy to be within the safety of our building, many playing board games and cards to pass the time. Some watched the Super Bowl in our rec room. Several of the clients had very special needs and were on oxygen and oxygenators which were devices that could be plugged in to generate their need for oxygen. We had two double amputees who weathered the storm right along with our other clients.
Somewhere along the line our three emergency management people from West Cape May reached out to help get the provisions needed to feed the numbers which would at one time become 105, plus about 25 firemen and volunteers. Somehow a contact was made in the community and Mark Kulkowitz from the Mad Batter responded with food for the Saturday night dinner. The stories are true that our clients ate crab cakes, scallops, salmon, and steak from the Mad Batter! Many of the firemen joked that our clients may not want to go home as we all ate so well. Others who contributed to the feeding of the shelter residents were Tony's Produce, Frank Hineline of the Pilot House, and Seashore Food Company. Also, the Acme cooperated in getting us the other necessities that were needed.
There were many others who volunteered and helped out at the shelter. Helping with the intake of the clients besides the two Red Cross people were Jennie McCaney and Terry Stickle of the Cape May Emergency Management. But a special thanks should be given to West Cape May Public Safety Commissioner Ramsey Geyer and his wife Joan who helped us get the shelter up and running before other volunteers came on the scene. Joan set up the intake procedures which were basically followed throughout the event. It should be noted that Glen Reeves, who is also a volunteer fireman at West Cape May, worked diligently with his front end loader to keep access to the shelter and firehouse open throughout the storm, while the public works men were trying to keep the streets of West Cape May open.
Young strong backs were something that our own West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company Boy Scout Troop #73 supplied. Many of the clients who requested to come to the shelter could be reached with four-wheel drive vehicles but from the curb to the house there was 24 to 30 inches of snow. It was here that our boy scouts became a blessing, as many times they would follow in another four-wheel drive vehicle, get out at the clients home, and shovel a path from the rescue vehicle to the front door, so the aged client could be evacuated. They also helped tremendously around the shelter, putting up cots, and doing other tasks when asked.
Throughout the snow storm the fire company responded to many hot wires down. At the height of the storm when asked by the Cape May Fire Department to assist in removing a woman in labor located about 1/4 mile off Stevens Street we responded, along with Cape May Point. After a challenge of deep snow and whipping blizzard conditions, the woman was brought out by the Cape May Point Humvee and beach tractor to the Cape May Fire Department ambulance which took her to the hospital.
Somehow, with the cooperation of many, we all weathered the storm. But for me, I was most proud of the official West Cape May Volunteer Company who came through with flying colors.