Charlestown residents, staff, and volunteers helped their neighbors during the blizzard

The following Letter to the Editor by Tom Gentz was published in local newspapers in February and is printed here with permission of the author

Thomas B. Gentz
Thomas B. Gentz

I thank Charlestown residents for their patience and willingness to help their neighbors during the blizzard of February 8 and 9.

I commend the town staff and especially the Charlestown DPW, Police, Fire, Ambulance and Emergency Operations Center (CEMA) for keeping residents safe and for working above and beyond the call of duty with little or no sleep. They cleared roads during the height of the storm for 36 straight hours, responded to emergencies, opened shelters, and facilitated communication with National Grid and cable providers in reporting downed lines.

We even had Town residents offer their personal generator to strangers in need.

The Town of Charlestown was prepared for Blizzard Nemo. I am proud of our DPW staff and the excellent maintenance of their plowing fleet. Unfortunately, when we were faced with the fifth largest blizzard in history, even that preparedness was challenged. For example, our capable DPW crew had three plows break during the height of the storm. After pushing downed trees and heavy snow from our roads, the crews had to do repairs and keep plowing to allow emergency vehicles to get to dire situations. Additionally, the State Air National Guard sent two humvees and four guardsmen so we could do emergency rescues in vehicles with high ground clearance. This Herculean effort continued until all roads were open for tree crews to remove wires from trees so that the line trucks could reestablish our power. I saw tree crews and line crews from Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and spoke to workers from as far away as Washington state and Los Angeles. So, I want to thank National Grid for its level of preparedness.

Additionally, there was a surge in the Town Hall’s wiring system, perhaps due to a lightning strike during the height of the blizzard. One of the surge protectors, doing its job, caught fire, and the Town Hall might have burned down were it not for the fast action of two EMA personnel, Lisa Shippert and Mike Carasquillo, who were setting up a warming shelter in Town Hall. They smelled smoke, and fire chief Don Rathbone, who was driving by Town Hall at that very moment,  saw the strobe light flashing in the Council Chambers.  He came to their assistance, and they extinguished the fire with minor damage to Town Hall.

CEMA and its partners consistently rise above challenges with a blend of veteran emergency personnel and new volunteers. The number of young adults working through the height of the storm on Friday night impressed me. Rhode Island College senior, Police Dispatcher, and Charlestown Ambulance Board President, Mike Carasquillo has forged a path that creates a balance between school and work. During Hurricane Sandy, he worked the phones to educate residents about police barriers; he enforced the boundaries established by the police but demonstrated concern for residents who had lost property. During this blizzard he worked phones and at shelters. In both situations, he maintained a professional tone and diffused the conflict associated with emergencies.

Most of all, Mike serves as a role model for high school seniors who regularly volunteer with Charlestown Ambulance. I thank Mike and Chariho seniors CJ Baton and Doran Bercovici for their efforts this past Friday and Saturday.  Such volunteers, upon attaining age 17, often enroll in EMT training to become certified EMT’s in our community.  Finally, I thank the police officers and ambulance staff who mentor them and grow talent for the town.

While I understand some citizen’s frustration during the storm, I can state that the Town of Charlestown was prepared and responded appropriately to its fullest extent. And, it should be noted all DPW, first responders and emergency personnel were not at home with their families during Nemo, they were on duty.

Tom Gentz
Charlestown Town Council President