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During storm fire crew was lost, then found Grace Farms

Published 9:19 am, Thursday, November 1, 2012
  • New Canaan firefighters gear up for what they anticipate to be a busy week following the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Tyler Woods
    New Canaan firefighters gear up for what they anticipate to be a busy week following the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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Around 7 p.m., when winds were highest, three Fire Department vehicles carrying 12 firemen became stranded in the northernmost part of town when the roads they tried to take to return from the call were blocked by trees. They ended up staying overnight at the Grace Farms estate, near the New York state border.

"It was probably the most dangerous time to be out there," said Office of Emergency Management Director Michael Handler." At that time we were only responding to life-threatening emergencies, structure fires."

The call, from a residence on Logan Road, turned out to be an incorrect report: there was no structure fire, just arcing wires and a blown transformer. As the fire crew attempted to make its way back to the fire house, they found that the roads they took to get up to the call had become blocked by fallen trees and wires in the meantime.

"It was very, very tough to look for a route. We were talking back and forth (with the Emergency Operations Center) to see what roads were closed. It was frustrating. We were trying to get Connecticut Light & Power to come out and get to some roads so that we could cut them open, (but they weren't able to)," said Fire Chief Edward Karl in an interview.

Karl said that the crews and three vehicles, two engines and an SUV, split up and each tried to look for a route, but all were unsuccessful.

Back at the EOC, Handler said that they were trying to find a route for the firemen, but that in the heart of the storm, trees were falling much too fast to be able to accurately keep up with the changes.

"It's very hard to keep up with road closures when everything is falling at once. During the time they were out, probably 100 roads closed. Roads were closing we didn't know about," he said.

Amid the chaos of the weather, it was not judged to be safe for the firemen to be outside.

"We instructed them to knock on people's doors (for shelter). We didn't want them outside. The firefighter that died in Easton died when a tree hit the truck while they were outside. Someone in the EOC had access to the (Grace Farms) building and told the firefighters, but if they hadn't, I would've told them to break in," said Handler.

Karl said the crew got to Grace Farms around 9 p.m., two hours after they were dispatched. While the firemen were at Grace Farms, they didn't just sit there, they responded to calls from there, including a woman who found herself trapped in her car between downed wires. The firemen rescued her and she stayed the night at Grace Farms with them.

"The bad news was we lost 3 apparatus and 12 firemen (for the night). The good news is we had a fire station in the north part of town. We were able to utilize them for a number of calls that we couldn't get to from downtown New Canaan... We were quite pleased with the way it worked out. Everyone was safe, and they responded to a number of calls. We called it Grace Farms Station 2," said Handler.

In the morning, when the worst of the storm had passed, crews from CL&P and the New Canaan Highway Department cut through Route 123 to clear a path for the fire crew, Handler said. The men were back in town by 9:30 a.m.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews