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As first flakes fall, Canton, Milton and Dedham brace for Nemo

Posted by Dave Eisenstadter  February 8, 2013 12:21 PM

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As residents in the towns south of Boston woke up to gray skies the morning of snowstorm Nemo, all of them had weather on the mind.

Maria Musto [below] worked the morning shift as assistant manager at Bruegger’s Bagels at East Milton Square, where crystalized salt covered the sidewalks in preparation for the storm. By 7:45 a.m., she said she had heard many speak about the storm.

“Everyone is bracing for the storm, but some think it’s not going to be as bad as it’s supposed to be,” Musto said. “They’re asking if we’re open tomorrow, but we’re not sure yet.”

The plan for Bruegger's was to stay open until 5 p.m., its normal closing time, Musto said. A Westwood resident, she said she didn’t bring her shovel with her, but she was prepared to drive slow to get home in the afternoon.

At a table by the window sat two emergency workers – Boston Fire Chief of Operations John Hasson and Chelsea Fire Captain Ed Buckley – having a cup of coffee.

“We’ve been around so long, this is just another storm coming through,” Hasson said. “You prepare for it and see to it as it comes.”

Both recalled the famous Blizzard of 1978. Hasson, who has been a firefighter since 1973, said equipment could not be deployed and he and other responders had to carry hose lines long distances.

Buckley said his experience has taught him extra equipment is important in a storm like snowstorm Nemo.

For Hasson, that means personal equipment, too.

“Double up in the mittens, heavy socks, we’re going to be out, we’re going to get wet,” he said.

Like most old enough to remember, Musto also referenced the Blizzard of ’78.

“I was in junior high, and I walked home…. It was like a four-mile walk with snow so deep it was awful,” Musto recalled.

Milton resident Jim Kelly, a teacher at Braintree, had the day off. At shortly after 8 a.m., just a few flakes were falling, and he surveyed the scene from outside his house.

“We haven’t had a storm for a long time,” Kelly said. “I tried to think back to what it was like in those other storms and we’re a little nervous.”

Kelly, too, recalled the ’78 storm, saying it was fun walking around an empty city, but added that he was stuck for a long time.

For this storm, Kelly and his family have food and a propane gas tank attached to his grill for food. His most important essential, however, was iced coffee, he said.

And he is not the only one who stocked up on essentials. The grocery stores were packed Thursday, an extreme rarity, Kelly said.

At Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton, Emergency Department Nurse Manager Phillipa Breslin said 10 emergency department nurses would be sleeping over at the hospital to help ensure staffing needs would be met.

“During major snowstorms, it is not uncommon to treat fall-related injuries and car accidents are also more common as driving conditions worsen,” Breslin said, adding that patients with chest pains from overexertion due to activities like shoveling were also common.

Hospital Public Relations Manager Jason Bouffard said hospital leaders met twice on Thursday afternoon to assess the hospital's clinical needs in terms of staffing and supply. The hospital also donated pillows and blankets to the town in case they are needed.

Physicians worked to discharge patients that could be discharged so they would not be stuck at the hospital during the storm, according to Bouffard.

At 9 a.m. at the Canton Fire Station on Revere Street, firefighters were preparing for what would come. By then, flakes were steadily falling, though nothing was sticking to the ground.

Outside, firefighter and paramedic Chuck Sudhalter tested the ladder one of the large fire engines. It was important to ensure every piece of equipment functioned properly before having to head out in a storm, he said.

Fire Chief Charles Doody, who also serves as Canton’s emergency management director, said town emergency plans for such weather events have come a long way in the past 15 to 20 years.

“Most towns had a civil defense shelter mentality and went down to the basement and hunkered down to plan,” Doody said in his office at the fire station, with snowflakes whizzing past the window. “It’s different now, having Emergency Operations Centers and unified command.”

Representatives from police, fire, the department of public works, the board of health, the schools, and other departments came together Thursday to plan and respond to shifting weather reports and other information coming in from the outside, he said.

Doody said he went to bed that night thinking about the storm and could sense it waking up Friday morning.

“I walked out the door this morning and you could just feel it, you could just smell it in the breeze; you know it’s coming,” Doody said.

Doody doubled the number of staff working that day in the Canton department, partly on the advice of long-serving Canton firefighters who remembered the 1978 storm.

“We have a retired lieutenant and he called me this morning and said, ‘Chief, I’ll give you one piece of advice – hire a lot of guys and don’t let them go home,’” Doody said.

Beyond staff, Doody has made sure they are trained in some of the methods no longer used on a daily basis, but important in large storms. One example was using chains for the fire trucks. Modern engines have automatic systems that help the trucks through the snow, but those often only work with up to six inches of snow on the ground, Doody said.

Also a Canton resident, Doody said his home was prepared with a generator, an emergency kit, and plenty of supplies.

He urged residents to stay off the roads, particularly after 3 p.m. He also asked them to use caution with carbon monoxide and to check on elderly residents.

A large danger for fire departments is the ability to find water supplies if there happens to be a fire during the storm.

“If you have a hydrant in your neighborhood, go shovel it out,” he said.

In Dedham, as with Canton and Milton, school was canceled for the day. That is what brought Caroline and Dominik Dwyer, ages 8 and 6 1/2, respectively, to the Endicott Estate to ride bikes at 9:45 a.m.

Marc Sedlmeyer [below, with Dominik], their visiting uncle from Quebec City, Canada, said it was good for the pair to get out of the house and move around before the storm, but that it was their idea.

“Maybe on Sunday we’ll be back here with some sleds,” Sedlmeyer said.

Caroline said they often sled at the Endicott Estate. “…And fly kites!” her brother added.

Sedlmeyer said the family was well supplied with batteries and food at home to wait out the storm.

Walking down the street to the Dedham Public Library on Church Street, neighbors Mary Jane Parnell and Andrew Hunter found it closed.

But that was OK with Parnell, who said she was already stocked up for the storm.

“I have two operas and I have Sting and I’ve got The Rolling Stones and I’ve got one trashy novel,” Parnell said. As an afterthought, she added firewood to the list.

Parnell also said she went through the ’78 blizzard, and remembers driving through a tunnel of snow after being locked down at Massachusetts General Hospital for five or six days.

Following official advice was important, Parnell said. The advice she had heard was to stay off the roads and stock up.

For Hunter, that means food, entertainment, and fire. He also said he has a gym in his basement he plans to use. Parnell added friends and neighbors. She said there were plans for get-togethers during the storm.

“It’s two days off from work,” Hunter said. “We’ll eat drink and be merry.”

As for plans for after the storm, Parnell said that would come later.

“I’m not there yet, I’m just going to enjoy it and watch it and sort of take that as it comes,” she said.

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