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Conn. firefighters use ATVs to help residents in wake of tornado

Lt. Matt Sarrracco said they are using two ATVs, to make their way through tough spots to gain access and to transport patients

By Jessica Lerner
New Haven Register

HAMDEN, Conn. — After a tornado tore through Hamden Tuesday, leaving a wake of destruction it its path, the town needed to utilize the fire department’s two all-terrain vehicles.

Two days after estimated peak winds of 110 mph wreaked devastation, Hamden is still trying to pick up the pieces, but it’s made more difficult by the multitude of downed trees and wires blocking the road.

Fire Chief David Berardesca said firefighters, police officers and Public Works employees have been working extra shifts and through the night to try and reopen the roads. Part of the problem, he said is the trees are entangled with wires, so utility crews have to make sure the power lines aren’t energized before Public Works can safely clear the trees.

Since it’s nearly impossible for fire trucks, ambulances and rescue squads to traverse through some of the roads blocked by snapped trees with wilting branches and low hanging wires, the fire department has been using alternative modes of transportation, which included their two all-terrain vehicles.

“Trees and power lines are the biggest concern right now. We’ve had cars down with trees across it and hugely impassable areas. So we’ve had to improvise through people’s driveways, people’s lawns,” Lt. Matt Sarrracco said. “We have two 6-by-6 ATVs, and we’re mostly using them for the tough spots to gain access and for patient transport out of tough areas.”

Sarracco said the two ATVs -- one of which is typically used for rescuing hikers from Sleeping Giant State Park and the other for battling brush fires -- are more than capable of making the trek, as they’re small, compact and are able to travel over varied, uneven land as well as roads.

Sarracco said the department has been mostly responding to “trip and fall” incidents as well as dehydration. He said people weren’t expecting to be stranded for this long and have started to run out of food and water.

Sarracco and firefighter/EMT Danny Mota responded to a few welfare checks around noon but routinely stopped to help and ask pedestrians if they were all right. The pair even revisited an elderly woman who they had seen earlier just to check on how she was doing. When the woman refused to leave her house, the duo brought her several bottles of water and bagels.

Mota said they removed a water tank from the ATV used to suppress brush fires to make room for a chainsaw and necessary medical supplies. While the entire contents of the ambulance don’t fit in the back of the ATV, Sarracco said basic life support supplies such as oxygen and nebulizers along with “quick trauma stuff” like bandages, splits and ice packs are in bags and backpacks that have been strapped down.

Sarracco said most of patients they’ve responded to were able to walk. However, he said if a patient was more critical, then the individual would be taken in the ATV, either strapped in up front or down in the back if the patient is on a backboard.

“In the day of the fire department, it’s just another problem we have to solve and another hazard we encounter,” Sarracco said.

Mota, who has been with the Hamden Fire Department for 20 years, said this is worst he’s seen the town. He said there are more downed trees than there were during Superstorm Sandy in 2011.

“Probably the worst but not the first,” Sarracco replied.

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