Blizzard clean-up was around-the-clock effort for town

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Tue., Feb. 19, 2013
Town personnel from multiple departments pitched in to work non-stop throughout Friday night, Saturday and Sunday to clear more than 31 inches of snow dropped by the blizzard. Photos courtesy of First Selectman Richard Shuck. - Contributed Photo

The massive snowstorm that blew into Connecticut on Friday, Feb. 8, through Saturday, Feb. 9, created plenty of headaches for town crews, with some still digging out days later.

“Our challenges were with keeping up with the 31.4 inches of snow that fell,” said Stafford Director of Public Works Rick Zulick. “There were complete whiteouts at times, making it extremely difficult for our [plow] drivers to maintain visibility. We were becoming lost on roads we know like the backs of our hands.”

At the height of the storm, Zulick said that he advised drivers to find a safe place, even if just for 20 minutes, to pull over until visibility cleared enough to continue on, for safety’s sake.

Despite the quickly mounting accumulation, Zulick said the town was able to keep all the streets passable using no outside contractors. The DPW utilized full-sized plows and sand vehicles, seven town-owned pickup trucks, two backhoes and two pay loaders to clear nearly 140 miles of paved and unimproved roads.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Stafford is the third-largest town by area in the state,” said Zulick, who credited the clean-up to not only the town highway department crew, but also the first selectman, the fire marshal, the Parks Department, and transfer station drivers. “This was an historic storm, and a very dangerous storm, and our drivers performed extremely well, going almost non-stop the first 48 hours,” Zulick said. “They voluntarily worked through mandatory breaks because they knew that once snow builds to a certain degree, you can’t get through, and they knew if they stopped, it would be all over.”

“One of the bigger challenges for us was that, in Stafford, we’ve got everything from tight confines of the city in the borough to very remote, unimproved and extremely hilly areas,” said First Selectman Richard Shuck. He said the decision early on to get all hands on deck for the cleanup made a big difference. “We utilized our smaller trucks on smaller roads, which helped subsidize and free up our bigger trucks to handle the bigger areas,” he said.

“Fortunately, we had no accidents or injuries, but we did have a lot of emergency calls for ambulances due to heart attacks, and we worked closely with the fire department and [Johnson Memorial Hospital] to help people,” said Zulick.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia Collin said the decision was made on Thursday evening to close all district schools on Friday and cancel all weekend activities. She said she also conferred with the town’s emergency command director about the potential use of the middle school as a shelter.

“Because of the amount of snow we received, it was determined early Sunday morning that even if every custodian and sub was called in to report to work, there was no way that our staff could remove the snow in order to open school on Monday,” Collin said of the decision to close schools on Feb. 11. She said the choice was made to bring in Stafford Sand & Gravel, which mobilized workers to haul snow out of the high school parking lot and tackle the lots of one of the primary schools. Stafford schools were closed Monday but reopened on Tuesday, Feb. 12, while many schools in the area remained closed for at least another day.

After polling certified and non-certified staff members in all buildings, Collin said they decided to give up a vacation day and move their final professional development day to Tuesday, Feb. 19. “Barring any additional school cancellations, the last day [of school] for students and teachers in now Friday, June 21,” she said.

Collin praised the district’s maintenance personnel and head custodians, who organized staff and persevered for endless hours in order to prepare for the reopening of schools, as well as town officials and personnel, and the flexibility of staff members to reschedule professional development activities. “The communication among all parties was beneficial and resulted in minimal disruption to community and school activities,” she said.

“I’m proud of our crew and everyone that pitched in, so that by Sunday morning, everything was open and passable,” said Zulick. “I also saw evidence of other people out there plowing with their own vehicles, just to help keep roads open. I want to thank them, too,” he said.

“I especially want to thank the public for respecting our parking ban and refraining from driving, which made our job easier, and also for their understanding, praise and compliments,” he said.

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