East Hartford fire house, high school used as shelters

By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Tue., Nov. 8, 2011
Young children and seniors were among those who sought shelter at the new firehouse on Brewer Street. Photos by Frances Taylor.
Young children and seniors were among those who sought shelter at the new firehouse on Brewer Street. Photos by Frances Taylor.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 29 snow storm that knocked down tree limbs, creating a major power outage, many East Hartford residents were without electrical power or heat for up to eight days. Two locations – the new firehouse on Brewer Street, and East Hartford High School – became emergency shelters for residents who needed a place to warm up, receive hot meals and take showers.

About 200 people came to the new Firehouse No. 5 on Brewer Street in the first days of the power outage that left thousands in the dark. Senior citizens and families with young children were particularly in need of warm shelter and a place to get hot food, and they were among those who primarily sought help.

One elderly couple, who declined to give their names, first went to the temporary shelter at Town Hall just after the storm, and then moved when the shelter services were opened at the new firehouse. They came because their house was cold and they had few supplies at home, said the husband. “We got a phone call from the mayor to go to Town Hall, and from there we came here,” he said. After the storm, many residents received a recorded message from Mayor Marcia Leclerc with information about town shelters and urging safety. The couple, who were in their 60s, said the accommodations were “very nice. They are taking good care of us here.”

Residents who came out to shelters were served by members of the town's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) who could be identified by their bright yellow vests, and upbeat attitude during the crisis. Anand Hingorami was one such volunteer who greeted guests as they checked into the firehouse. “We have snacks for them here, and we have breakfast and dinner and they can also take showers here. It’s working well, everyone is doing fine,” Hingorami said.

After two days, the firehouse shelter was moved to East Hartford High School, which closed to students for a week in the days following the storm and power outage. The school's gym, cafeteria, first floor classrooms and locker room areas were transformed by volunteers of CERT and the Red Cross, who hosted about 65 people on a daily basis until it closed, which happened when most of the power was restored to residents. One classroom even served as an infirmary, with hospital beds and curtains.

The Red Cross put out a national call, and eight volunteers from Ohio responded and were in charge of setting up the shelter at the high school. Paul Terry, a resident of Dayton, Ohio, who was the daytime supervisor, praised the East Hartford CERT team for their readiness and ability to provide the food, blankets, cots and other items that were needed.

The high school also served as a place where residents who were staying in their homes but were getting low on food could come to pick up MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) that had been delivered by the Connecticut National Guard. “Everyone here has been terrific – the volunteers as well as the residents,” said Terry, who is in his eighth deployment to a state emergency declaration. “The residents here have been great – everyone has stayed calm, despite their problems, and they are very grateful for the help.”

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