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Who’s hydrant is that?

By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 42 (Jan. 23, 2020)

Newfoundland’s east coast saw some of the heaviest snowfall in decades this past week, and Conception Bay South was no exception.

Throughout the weekend of Jan. 17 to the 20, residents across Newfoundland’s east coast were faced with record-high winds, upwards of 80-cm of snowfall, and snowbanks nearly three times the height of an adult in places.

As a result, many communities were forced to declare a state of emergency, meaning businesses were ordered to remain closed, and pedestrians and drivers off the roads, save for essential services.

Now, nearly a week later, those communities are doing what they can to clean up the aftermath of such large amounts of snow. Among those is Conception Bay South, and Chief of the Conception Bay South Fire Department, John Heffernan, says there are plenty of things that residents can be doing to make sure they are safe and sound.

Between Friday, Jan. 17 and Monday, Jan. 20, the CBS Fire Department received 37 emergency calls from residents. Although he could not give an exact ratio, Heffernan says that, compared to an average week, this was a significant increase in calls. Still, it is consistent with the number the department has seen in other extreme weather situations in the past.

Those calls ranged from house fires, carbon monoxide issues, and even some pedestrian-vehicle accidents.

Heffernan says anyone walking along the roadways should make an effort to be as visible as possible, given how much more narrow and awkward the roads can be for those in a vehicle.

“Wear bright colours, reflective vests, and even headlamps or flashlights,” says the chief. “Anything at all, really, that could make it easier for vehicles to see them on the road. Unfortunately, until things start to progress, there’s limited access and people are going to have to share the roads between vehicles and pedestrians. So, there’s no doubt that things are going to be challenging.”

During weather like this, especially in the case of a state of emergency, the majority of vehicles found on the roads are being driven by first responders. However, driving in these conditions is no easy feat, and Heffernan says extreme snowfalls pose significant issues to firefighters and other first responders and essential services providers.

“Having to spread our resources as evenly as we can, especially with so many calls coming in, can be a difficult task, but then there’s the actual navigation to the calls,” he explains. “For us, for example, with the height of the storm and the cooperation of our public works department – the plow operators – we would not have gotten anywhere, not even out of the station. So, as you can imagine, that can slow down response time a bit.”

Heffernan adds that clearing snow away from nearby fire hydrants can be a major aid to firefighters.

Although it is technically the responsibility of the Town to ensure fire hydrants are accessible, with nearly 1,300 hydrants to be found throughout Conception Bay South, making sure they are all clear of snow can be a time consuming task when clearing snow from the roads has to take priority.

So, Heffernan says that any residents who take it upon themselves to spend 15 or 20-minutes to clear a hydrant or two near their own home can be one of the biggest forms of help in times like these.

“I certainly encourage people to, if they can and have the capacity, to help. It would go a long ways,” he admits. “We understand that there are people who simply won’t have the ability to do that, but if people can, that would be great.

In fact, many people have been doing just that, the chief notes, and on cold, blustery days and nights, every second counts when fighting a fire.

On top of that, making the town aware of damaged fire hydrants can also be a major help, he says. If a hydrant has sustained damage they can be a struggle for firefighters to operate. Heffernan says it is very important that the proper people be informed of damaged hydrants. In this case, that’s the Public Works department with the Town.

Conception Bay South residents are no strangers to a house fire in these weather conditions, either. Over the past week, two houses burned.

Heffernan says there are a number things people can do to prevent fires. Among the most common causes of winter-time house fires are clogged dryer vents and propane exhaust vents. That’s why it is important to ensure they are free of any blockage from snow and ice.

“On the other side of that, there’s the carbon monoxide piece that goes along with it. If you block a propane vent, carbon monoxide can become a real issue,” Heffernan says.

Vehicles can also catch ablaze in people’s driveways when being left on to warm up on chilly mornings. When exhaust pipes are covered in snow or ice, the vehicle soon becomes a hub for carbon monoxide. Similarly, if snow gets packed in under a car’s hood around the wiring, it becomes very easy for those wires to catch fire once power starts flowing through the vehicle.

One of the most important suggestions Heffernan raised is to conduct wellness checks. In weather bad enough to call for a state of emergency, there will undoubtedly be people with disabilities, as well as some senior citizens, who will be trapped within their own homes with no ability to clear snow from their driveways and doors.

“It’s important to check in on your neighbours,” says Heffernan. “Make sure they have everything they need, and that they’re not in trouble or having any issues. Keeping tabs on one another can go a long way when it comes to safety.”

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