Fire Department Answers the Bell
By Rich Cresson
At approximately 4:55 p.m. on Friday, March 2, Swarthmore Fire Dept. was dispatched to Haverford Ave. for a report of a tree falling into a house. Firefighters from Swarthmore and Garden City responded to find a tree had indeed knocked off the top of the home’s chimney, and grazing its rear portion. Hampered by high winds, falling snow and sleet, cold temperatures, and wet ground, firefighters raised ladders and extended hose lines to determine that fire had not spread to the home, and that the smoke condition within the structure emanated from the smoke rising from the fireplace.
This alarm was among many the fire department responded to during the March 2 storm. Firefighters were actively in service from mid-afternoon Friday until 10:30 p.m. that evening, and continued to be dispatched through Sunday evening to more than 20 separate incidents. Numerous trees downed power lines and utility poles, creating dangerous situations and closing many streets within Swarthmore.
Patience, Up To a Point
Borough Manager Jane Billings said that 96% of Swarthmore households were without electrical service at some point during the storm and aftermath. Most were restored within 24 hours, but as of Tuesday afternoon, a number of streets and blocks were still dark. “We didn’t hear many complaints from residents at first, but frustrations are mounting now.”
The good news (in the bad news) is that PECO has said that areas that wait the longest after last week’s winter storm will be given high priorities next time. The bad news is that, with another storm due to hit near Swarthmorean press time, “next time” may come before power has been restored from the first go-round. Billings participates in a daily conference call with PECO to update municipalities on outages and repair timetables. (Outage info is also available on a block by block basis at peco.com — search “outage map.”)
During the weekend storms, Swarthmore’s Public Works Department wasn’t as busy as you’d think, Billings said. “The trees that came down took wires with them, and that work is for PECO and its specialists.” Cuzzy Rowles and his colleagues were involved in setting up traffic barricades; clearing the streets of other tree debris, which was accepted at the Delaware County compost farm; and preparing for the next storm.
Swarthmore Police Chief Brian Craig returned early from a trip to Florida, and may have questioned his choice as winds came up and trees came down across the Philadelphia area. Though the chief was not on duty during the Friday storm, the borough police force was in good hands. Emergency call volume tripled over the norm, many concerning power lines down and closed roads. There were four motor vehicle collisions during the weekend, fortunately involving no serious injuries. Communications are more critical during emergencies, and can also be more complicated, Chief Craig said. “Please call 911 with your emergency, not our headquarters,” he urged, noting that when the phones and power are out, these calls will go unanswered. Before the power went out, the department did activate the emergency notice phone system to alert Swarthmore residents of the opening of a warming center.
Call Forwarding in Nether
Nether Providence Township Manager Gary Cummings said that the township building was without power and phone service through Monday, but not disconnected from residents: “Assistant Township Manager Dave Grady arranged for the office lines to transfer to our cell phones.”
Incoming calls concerned power outages and their effects, Cummings said, and he was glad to be able to refer callers to warming centers including the Garden City firehouse and the YMCAs of Delaware County, where visitors were welcomed to use showers and wireless services, charge phones, and take a break from their chilly homes.
Despite gruesome-looking tree falls in the township, injuries were few, and township property seemed undamaged, Cummings said, Public works employees worked around the clock through the storm weekend, clearing and safeguarding roadways. As of Tuesday, March 6, many pockets of Nether Providence are without power, the highest concentration in the Pine Ridge neighborhood.