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Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette
Snow is piled high against a fire hydrant at Rudisill Boulevard and Webster Street on Friday.

In frozen conditions, help emergency workers help you

How about this: Do unto emergency workers as you would want done to you if you were stuck in your house and needed an ambulance.

Because this snow – these drifts and piles, ice-covered stairways and rutted streets – is going to be with us in northeast Indiana for a few more weeks at least. The first day of spring is about 40 days away.

And while it’s harder for everyone to get around in this white nonsense, imagine trying to squeeze a 10-foot-wide, 40,000-pound fire truck down a city street further narrowed by snow piles and parked cars. Or how about trying to safely navigate icy steps leading down from a front porch with an ill patient on a heavy hydraulic cot?

“The street crews have done an amazing job,” said Jared Crotty, the director of clinical care for the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority. “But the general public has continued to park on the street. They have continued to leave their belongings in the street – basketball hoops and trash cans.”

Fort Wayne police officer Mike Joyner, the department’s spokesman, made a similar plea as he talked about officers hiking through the snow to get to calls and trying to safely navigate the crowded and snow-covered streets in two-wheel-drive vehicles.

“We can’t do it all ourselves. There is an expectation where citizens have to be part of the equation,” he said.

While plows have focused much of their attention on the main arteries in the community, most medical calls, fire runs and police responses do not occur on those roads. They are responding to the same neighborhoods residents struggle to get free of.

It makes it nearly impossible and causes a much slower response, Joyner said.

“It’s all critical,” he said. “And people don’t realize it until they have an immediate need for a response and they realize there is an action they could have taken to make it easier for us to assist them. … They are things that just take minutes and consideration and make all the difference.”

No one has pushed this much snow around area roads since the early 1980s, and there are few places left in which to put it.

Record-cold temperatures also make the work of area emergency responders that much tougher, and dangerous.

As nervous as drivers are trying to safely get where they need to be, those driving emergency vehicles also worry about whether those around them will yield, or be able to stop in time, said Fort Wayne Fire Department Assistant Chief Ron Privett, who is in charge of operations.

Drivers often fail to yield anyway, he said, but now their vision is impaired by frosty windshields and their hearing further impeded by heaters roaring.

“We have to use extreme caution,” he said.

When firefighters get safely to a fire scene, their 40 to 50 pounds of gear, including the air tanks and masks, make balance tricky on icy sidewalks. Water lines are heavy, and tools become ice covered. And they might have to dig out the fire hydrant.

“It complicates the whole operation,” Privett said.

Unlike the fire departments, TRAA does not have stations in which to wait for calls. Instead, the ambulance crews are posted throughout the city, waiting for calls in their trucks.

Though they can warm up in restaurants or gas stations, for the most part crews stay in the ambulances.

And with the cold weather, the ambulances aren’t staying as warm as they need to, for both the paramedics and the patients, Crotty said.

TRAA has been covering the radiators of the ambulances with cardboard to try to trap the heat, something Crotty, a Texas native, had never seen before.

“That’s important for the crew, obviously, but also in the back, in the patient care compartment, we want them to be comfortable,” he said.

On a run the other night, Crotty experienced the wrath of a frustrated resident, impatient at being unable to get to his house because of the ambulance and other emergency vehicles blocking the road.

As the paramedics pulled the patient across the snowy yard, the resident hollered curse words at the crew, Crotty said.

He urges the area’s residents to help out their elderly neighbors or those they know have medical issues that may require aid. Shovel their sidewalks, salt their steps and keep access to their houses clear.

“We’ve got a significant geriatric population in town,” Crotty said. “All you’re doing is giving them easier access to care. Help them do their driveway.”

It is not complicated, emergency workers said.

Keep your car out of the street. Clear your sidewalks. Yield to emergency vehicles. Uncover those fire hydrants.

“We’re all out here to give a hand,” Crotty said.