Assistance requests surge in storm’s wake

A fallen tree crushes a garbage can at Claggett Creek Park (Eric A. Howald/KEIZERTIMES).

It was a stressful and exhausting 72-hour period for the first responders at Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) and Keizer Fire District (KFD) during what was one of the worst ice storms in state history last weekend. 

Over a 72-hour period (Feb. 12-14) MCFD1 responded to 234 emergency calls, a 350% increase in their daily average call volume — 79 calls were for emergency medical services (EMS) and 155 calls were for downed trees or power lines.

Due to the number of high priority calls, limited on-duty staffing and a low number of volunteers, dozens of lower priority calls went unanswered — fortunately no personnel injuries were reported.

“It was absolute craziness, almost controlled chaos. It was an overwhelming number of calls, one after the other. There was no break,” MCFD1 fire chief Kyle McMann said. “There were instances of wives bringing dinners to their husbands on scene because they hadn’t stopped working for 24 hours. But that’s what we are trained to do. You just have to keep going.”

KFD deputy fire marshal Ann-Marie Storms reported that the district responded to 152 calls over the same 72-hour period. Storms also said that on a busy day, the district receives between 19 and 20 calls over a 24-hour period. 

By 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, KFD had already responded to more than 50 calls for downed power lines — KFD had one engine and three medic units on-call, full of a mix of career staff and volunteers. 

“We were very busy, but there was nothing we weren’t prepared for. We had to prioritize our calls because life comes before property,” Storms said. 

McMann said that some people had to wait anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours to receive service and that 911 dispatch had, at one time, had hundreds of calls pending. KFD reported similar issues with pending calls. 

“It’s an all-hands on deck approach. They all do a phenomenal job getting people taken care of, even though some calls have to be put into pending,” Storms said. 

MCFD1 had three medic units on duty during the 72-hour shift, but McMann said two stations of volunteers played a pivotal role in the process.

“Our volunteers sacrificed a lot to help others. To have two stations of volunteers who spend two days working non-stop with no compensation is incredible,” McMann said. 

When power goes out in the area, oftentimes people are unable to access necessary medical equipment, such as an oxygen tank or nebulizers, which led to the uptick in EMT calls — there were also multiple calls regarding carbon monoxide poisoning and instances where individuals couldn’t drive to the emergency room due to down trees. 

McMann advises after a storm that people do their best to try to safely remove branches from their driveways and sidewalks, which helps first responders and public works individuals. 

“Assessing the situation and safely removing trees and debris from streets and sidewalks can help decrease the demand on service providers,” McMann said. “There was one instance where we couldn’t reach a patient because their driveway was blocked by a tree, so we had to knock on a neighbor’s door to borrow a chainsaw.”

Storms says that being prepared and aware is crucial to surviving a power outage. 

“The key is to be prepared ahead of time. There are so many different dynamics to the situation, like getting 72 hours worth of food and finding different ways to cook and stay warm,” Storms said. “We preach preparedness in everything we do.”