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Emergency services brave the storm

Emergency services work together to ensure the community is taken care of despite harsh weather conditions. The Stark County Sheriff's office and CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson have both used snowmobiles to assist people in need in past winter storms.

Staff at CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson work together to ensure that everyone has a safe ride to work despite the weather. Photo by Ellie Potter/ The Dickinson Press
Staff at CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson work together to ensure that everyone has a safe ride to work despite the weather. Photo by Ellie Potter/ The Dickinson Press

Emergency services work together to ensure the community is taken care of despite harsh weather conditions.

The Stark County Sheriff's office and CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson have both used snowmobiles to assist people in need in past winter storms. A snow plow has been parked at the fire station in order to plow ahead of fire engines when the road conditions were too severe.

But all three agreed that they were equipped to handle this week's snowfall and the problems caused as a result.

POLICE LOOK FOR STRANDED MOTORISTS

Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich said that his force's focus this week was to monitor the main arteries to make sure that people were not stranded or stuck in the roads or ditches. He had patrol officers as well as others in the department making rounds to help.

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He actually received less calls than he expected from people who were stuck in the snow, though he did receive a few. The city's police department probably had more of these types of calls, he said.

"I want to thank people for utilizing discretion when they travel," he said.

Officers on the force did not work longer days, though they did move some people around internally in order to increase the size of their patrol, he said. The school's resource officer was patrolling more because school was canceled, and the courthouse was also closed freeing up the staff there to also assist in making the rounds.

"When we have 'no travel advisories,' if you don't have to travel, please don't," Oestreich said. "It puts our officers in peril, it puts our road crew in peril if we have to reach somebody."

This week the city was lucky that the temperatures were pretty moderate despite all the snowfall, he said. It will be more dangerous later in the winter when it gets much colder and vehicles break down more easily.

"Our native North Dakotans - they know how to do this, but if you moved up here from a temperate climate, really heed this advice because if you've never been stuck out in a blizzard with zero visibility it is not fun to sit there," he said.

The county had to delay the transport of some mental health patients this week because of the weather and the covered highways. He said he would not put the safety of the transport subjects nor his officers in jeopardy and opted to use four-wheel vehicles for the transport rather than the regular transport vans.

In the past the force has used snowmobiles from Southwest Search and Rescue to take officers to people in need in extreme instances when there was no other way to reach them. They will also call the county road crew to help plow the way to help.

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"Our road crew is really good about coming out if it's an emergency, and our vehicles are four-wheel drive, so we can get through quite a bit of snow," he said.

A QUIET WEEK FOR THE FIRE DEPARTMENT

Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak did not call in any extra staff to handle this storm - in fact this storm had the potential to be much worse than it was, he said. The regular fire department shift has been on duty with the volunteer response being on-call.

"This hasn't escalated to the type of storm where we'd have extra people at the stations," he said. "We're still able to get around and it's been more of a challenge making sure that the engine room doors are free of snow."

His main concern was the blowing and drifting snow on the side streets but noted that they are in good communication with the street department in order to handle any issues this may cause.

During snow emergencies the fire department will call the street department to plow roads - especially residential areas which may be harder to travel - in order to get their engines to the scene safely. In the past they have parked a snowplow at the station for emergencies.

Sivak is more concerned with storms that knock out the power noting that people sometimes turn to alternative methods of heating and lighting - such as kerosene, propane and candles - which can catch fire or emit carbon monoxide if not used properly. The rate of structure fires tends to increase with the severity of the storm, he said.

"This time of year people should not be caught unaware because especially North Dakota weather can change very quickly," he said. "... If you can get through a period of no power without an alternate heating device, you're probably better off. That's not always possible for everybody."

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THE MOST ESSENTIAL SERVICE

The hospital's first priority is to be open and staffed in order to assist the community's needs in a storm while ensuring their staff has a safe commute to work, said Reed Reyman, president of CHI St. Alexius Hospital in Dickinson. A majority of the staff has worked at the hospital a number of years and knows how to handle most any situation in order to still be able to provide health care. The hospital staff works together to give rides to those who do not have a safe means of transportation in inclement weather and offers accommodations to those who live far away.

"Everybody is kind of essential on the hospital side," he said. "We need dietary, we need housekeeping, we need everybody in. There really isn't anybody that can't come in."

Making sure the hospital remains open is a community effort including the ambulance service and the road crews, Reyman said.

"We're one of the few, I don't know how many actually stay open, but we are probably the essential service that needs to stay open no matter what happens," he said. "People need care."

The hospital works to keep its parking lot and entrances clear - something made more difficult with the drifting snow, he said. This became problematic Monday night. Maintenance crews were plowing the ambulance entrance hourly, but the wind had piled up the snow against the doors when an ambulance arrived. The crew was able to take the patient in through another entryway to the emergency room without incident, he said. They covered the patient, who was outside for a few seconds, before moving them into the hospital.

The road department helped them clear the snow away as well.

"We all just work together pretty well to make it happen," he said. "We just know we have to be open. No snow days at the hospital."

Reyman said there is usually an increase in trauma cases during snowstorms when people over-exert themselves shoveling snow, get hypothermia or have accidents on the roads.

The hospital does not have a specific plan for emergency management but works with whoever is available from other emergency services - including the roads departments, EMS and ambulance services-to get healthcare to those in need.

"We work closely with emergency management and the community," he said. "When something like this happens it's always the entire community. ... I mean everybody contributes. The hospital is kind of different. You just take it for granted until you need it. You just assume we're going to be here and be open and ready for you, and we are."

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