By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
— Six years ago today, we had no idea what was coming.
I remember Oct. 13, 2006, pretty well. I was just home from work that evening, making a batch of soup for dinner, shaking my head as I looked out the window at the giant, wet snowflakes. (My toddler son was watching, too, but he thought they were neat.) My husband, arriving home from some errand or another, had to dodge a branch that was already down in our front yard.
Dinner was just starting to cook when the power went out. We called the electrical company, and were appalled to be told it would be hours until power was restored. I don’t remember what dinner alternative we came up with that day, but by the time we all huddled together for warmth that chilly evening, we were starting to realize that this was no mere power outage. The constant crackle of the frozen, laden-with-snow tree branches overhead saw to that.
My family was without power for eight days after the so-called October Surprise snowstorm. While I hope I never have to go through that again (it was tough enough with one fairly-laid-back small child), we did all right. We were warm, and fed, and safe.
In part, I have to admit, this was due to good fortune, pure and simple. The nights didn’t get cold enough that we had to run our sporadically working generator constantly. We were also blessed with the help of family, friends and neighbors. And, partly, we were prepared.
But, mostly, we were lucky.
It could happen again, of course. It could happen this Friday, when the low temperature (according to weather.com) could get down into the 30s. Like in 2006, most trees still have their leaves.
Or it could be another random gift from Mother Nature — a tornado, perhaps — or a manmade disaster, be it accidental or on purpose. A plane went down in Clarence in recent memory; it could happen in Tonawanda. And, unfortunately, we still don’t live in a terrorism-free world.
Would you be prepared?
Starting Monday, the Town of Tonawanda will be offering free Community Emergency Response Team training at the Fire Training Tower classroom at 70 Fire Tower Drive in the town. Classes take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, followed by a course review and simulated disaster training exercise Dec. 1. There will also be a fire safety session from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 27.
When I talked last week with town paramedic Robert Lutz, coordinator of CERT, and John Moffat, chairperson of Tonawanda CERT, they both stressed that while the classes can lead to more involvement with town emergency services, no one has to become involved.
They just have to learn.
“There has to be a level of citizen preparedness,” Lutz said. “Every disaster is local. The federal government is not going to be on your doorstep to take over by day two. Neither will the state, for that matter.
“That’s what this program does. If they leave and never come back, but have the knowledge to be better prepared at all ... we’ve done our job. That’s one less for us to worry about.”
Trainees learn about topics from putting out small fires to fire aid, and how to care for themselves, their families and their neighbors in the case of an emergency.
CERT volunteers did a lot of good during those days in October 2006, Lutz said — but their greater impact may forever remain something of a mystery.
“What we don’t know is how many people didn’t call 911 ... because they were prepared.”
For more information or to enroll for the CERT training, visit www.tonawanda.ny.us and click on the emergency services link and select CERT, email email@example.com or call 879-6685.
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.