By Matt de Simone
Winter storm “Izzy” brought together members of Botetourt County’s fire and rescue staff to help prepare the county for a storm that, fortunately, brought forth empty roads due to the snow rushing in on Sunday, January 16.
According to Botetourt County Fire & EMS Chief Jason Ferguson, emergency management personnel with the Department of Fire & EMS worked with various stakeholders to ensure increased readiness and preparation ahead of the storm before and throughout that weekend.
“Thankfully, this storm, while still impactful, was mild in terms of the impacts,” Ferguson mentioned in a recent interview. “It’s always a good reminder of the potential for a debilitating snow or ice storm, which has and can happen again.”
The preparation process included things such as a daily operational briefing to ensure that all parties involved heard the latest weather forecast and what coordinated actions to prep for and respond to the event. These briefings include public safety and county administration, numerous department heads, representatives from the towns, and various other groups that have critical roles in widespread disasters.
Each evening fire and EMS leaders from each station were briefed on another call, ensuring enhanced communication to evaluate preparedness and staffing levels. Each fire and EMS station confirmed all equipment was checked and readied before the storm, assessing tire chains, chain saws, and other necessary equipment essential to be ready and operational during these events.
Additionally, fire and rescue placed a hybrid Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the Emergency Communications/911 Center that Sunday morning. A senior official from fire and EMS collaborated with dispatchers on modifications to responses based on the conditions. By 2 p.m., with the authorization of Emergency Management officials, a local state of emergency was declared due to conditions worsening to a point where the potential to access state resources was high.
Throughout the two-day event, from before snowfall through the following Monday evening, staffing levels were higher than usual to ensure the most appropriately staffed and expeditious response possible. Multiple dispatch personnel even slept at the 911 Center when off duty to ensure they were on-site and ready for their shift.
“Overall, the number of emergencies that required response from public safety resources was lower than normal,” Ferguson said. “Thankfully, due to the timing of the event, roads were rather vacant, and folks heeded the advice and stayed home.”
As of last week, crews continued to work through the challenges of accessing homes and businesses to get to people in need of help. Through the coordinated efforts of fire department utility vehicles and the Fire & EMS support truck equipped with a plow, crews could access scenes and patients sufficiently.
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