Quinebaug Volunteer Fire Department provides emergency shelter

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Aug. 30, 2011
Volunteers man the radios at the Quinebaug Volunteer Fire Department. Photos by D. Coffey.
Volunteers man the radios at the Quinebaug Volunteer Fire Department. Photos by D. Coffey.

On Sunday, Aug. 28, longtime Red Cross volunteers Ralph and Kathi Duval found themselves in a position they’d never been in before; they needed shelter themselves. The retired couple had been camping at Meadowside Campground in Woodstock when hurricane Irene’s battering winds and rain proved too much for the power lines. Luckily for them, the Quinebaug Volunteer Fire Department, just a few miles away, had opened up as an emergency shelter the night before.

“We went to 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday and the priest happened to mention that the fire department was going to open up as a shelter if anyone needed it,” Kathi Duval said. The Duvals took advantage of it and drove there early Sunday morning.

What they found was a new facility with bedding and restrooms and showers and plenty of food and drink. Only three years old, the station was built with shelter needs in mind. A commercial kitchen sits between two large rooms. There is space for approximately 40-50 cots in one room, according to QVFD Chief Steven Bodreau. In the other room, tables and chairs were set up for people to eat meals or play cards or watch television. Irene took the cable option away, but there were coloring books and newspapers spread out on the tables. Restrooms, complete with showers, were also available.

Late Saturday afternoon, after the emergency management coordinators from Thompson met, all fire departments throughout the town were notified. QVFD volunteers started arriving at the shelter soon afterwards. Norwich Red Cross delivered 35 emergency treatment cots. The cots came hermetically sealed, each with a pillow and blanket. Fire department volunteers unloaded the cots and waited to see how many people might need them.

In the meantime, longtime firefighter and EMT volunteer Justine Gendreau went grocery shopping. Five hundred dollars later, she came in laden with food and water to see them through several days. She was concerned about shelter guests, but even more so about seeing to it those volunteers had supplies to keep them going.

Happily, only four people needed to use the shelter. “We’ve done well,” Bodreau said. “We’ve been lucky. It wasn’t as bad as they thought. People stayed off the roads. There were no accidents and no flooding.”

There were plenty of downed trees and power lines, however. Reports had streamed in all day to the dispatchers. Volunteers manning the radios kept in touch with the Quinebaug Valley Dispatch Center in Danielson, the Thompson Emergency Operations Center at the Thompson Town Hall, and the state police Troop D barracks in Danielson. Joseph Donovan Jr. monitored the ham radio, in case all other lines of communication went down.

The town highway crews were busy all day checking reports of downed trees and wires. If needed, they set out cones and barriers, but they stayed away from downed wires. Those reports were sent to the Emergency Operations Center staff, who in turn notified CL&P. Downed wires were a priority one call, but CL&P wasn’t giving out any estimated time of arrivals for those calls. They were inundated.
“We block the road off if we need to,” said Gendreau.

Chief Bodreau got an unexpected but welcome delivery of three 5-gallon buckets of clam chowder, courtesy of the Thompson Lions. The Lions had had a food booth at the Brooklyn Fair, but when the hurricane forced an early closure, the men made sure the chowder wasn’t wasted.

“Bob LaChance and Ron Bisette made sure it was delivered to the station when the Brooklyn Fair closed,” he said. “We’re very thankful to them.”

The Duvals were thankful too. The couple who had spent so much time helping others found the favor returned. “It’s been wonderful,” said Kathi Duval. “We ate everything – the sandwiches, the clam chowder, and the cupcakes.” She laughed.

In another week, she and her husband plan to drive to Sarasota, Fla. for the winter. They intend to get right back into volunteering for the Red Cross when they arrive. “It’ll be busy down there,” Duval said, and she sat back down on her cot and started reading her novel.


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