During Hurricane Irene, firefighters from Upper Saucon, Lower Milford and Coopersburg were on permanent call assisting with damage.
Calls began before midnight Saturday night and continued for 24 hours. Most of the calls were for flooded basements. Lower Milford responded to 22 calls, seven of which were for flooded basements (and some of those needed to be pumped out more than once). Coopersburg had to pump out 123 flooded basements and Upper Saucon responded to more than 60 calls.
In addition to basement flooding, the fire companies handled fallen trees and transformer fires; energized downed power lines; handled traffic control due to downed trees, poles, wires and flooding; were called for swiftwater rescues of pedestrians and motorists; responded to fire and carbon monoxide alarms and car accidents, and assisted with EMS calls.
“The sad parts about the whole ordeal were not being able to help some residents fast enough,” said Gary Focht of the Lower Milford Fire Company. Most of the firefighters took care of their neighbors’ damage before assessing their own.
“Many of our members worked well over 24 hours straight, particularly our live-in members Matt Rafferty, Mark Schwendeman and Scott Suleski," said a representative of Upper Saucon Fire Company in a released statement. "Chief Charles Castetter and Emergency Management Coordinator Nicole Castetter also worked straight through the storm and its aftermath without stop.”
Some fire companies went out for one call, but realized there were additional dangers.
In one Coopersburg case, Lt. Alicia Hoffert recognized that a home's residents were not feeling well and upon seeing their generator in the basement called in a full response for carbon monoxide poisoning. The residents were rushed to the hospital as the fire team used fans and a CO meter to clear out the house.
“Had they been going to bed instead of waking up at that time, they may never have woken up,” Chief Kevin Farnish said. He stressed that everyone needs to pay attention to their CO detectors.
Lower Milford team members had a close call themselves. En route to a call, they were confronted by a tree and wires in the middle of the road. Wet brakes prevented them from stopping quickly, though the company was able to stop before making contact.
"It was a great effort by a dedicated group. They went above and beyond what anyone could realistically expect," said Capt. Bob Jones of the Upper Saucon Fire Company.