News

Battling the elements

By RACHEL BRANT

Staff writer

As rain poured down Monday, trees collapsed along Illahee Road and the bank quickly gave way. Live power lines zapped the ground in front of Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighters as the road disappeared right before their eyes.

On an average day, CKFR responds to 25-30 calls, but Monday’s wild weather kept the fire department busy, responding to 136 calls for assistance.

“I think our whole district got hit hard, if not harder (than others),” said CKFR Battalion Chief Mike Tague. “There’s just a lot of culverts that could not handle the water flow.”

CKFR had to extend firefighters’ shifts and call in extra help during Monday’s storm. Tague said he had some firefighters at Station 51 on Silverdale Way who worked more than 50 hours.

“I think I had four or five people who were already on 50-plus-hour shifts,” Tague said. “We were trying to relieve them, but it took a while.”

Tague said CKFR firefighters saw everything from stalled vehicles to houses slipping into creeks.

“This is the worst I’ve seen,” Tague said. “We had some roof collapses back in the last Pineapple Express, but we didn’t have the significant landslide and washout effects we saw with this one.”

Firefighter Steve Davison worked at Station 41 on Old Military Road in Bremerton during Monday’s storm and responded to Illahee Road when it washed away. He said the crew was responding to a call regarding a person trapped inside a home, but before they could reach the residence the road disappeared in front of them.

“Our two biggest roadways that were affected were Illahee Road and the bridge at Chico Creek,” Tague said. “Those are more long-term damages.”

Davison has been a firefighter for 13 years and said Monday’s storm was the craziest thing he has ever experienced.

He said numerous people bypassed road closure signs and ventured onto flooded roadways, making the jobs of firefighters and deputies more difficult.

“People really need to understand that when we close a road it’s for their own safety,” Davison said. “It makes our job more difficult (when people bypass road closures). That creates a situation where we might have to put our lives in danger.”

Both Davison and Tague said they responded to numerous calls regarding flooded basements. CKFR firefighters spent a lot of time helping people move valuables from their homes and pump out their basements. Davison recalled seeing washing machines and dryers floating in 5 feet of water at some homes Monday.

“One of the things that people should commit to owning is some sort of pump,” Tague said. “We’ve seen a lot of calls where if people had their own pump they could have avoided a lot of property damage. It really taxes our resources in a time of crisis to have people out there pumping basements.”

Tague said people should prepare themselves for inclement weather and put together a three-day supply of emergency gear including extra clothing and food items. He added that cellular phones also are handy in times of crisis.

“Cell phones are probably what saved a lot of people (Monday),” Tague said.

Although the storm has ended, CKFR continues to be impacted by numerous road closures. Some roads may be closed for months which hinders the way firefighters respond to calls for assistance.

“Chico Way isn’t that big of an issue for us, but the Illahee Road is really affecting us and how we respond,” Tague said. “There could be a delay of 10-15 minutes and in a heart attack situation that could be a life-threatening situation.”

CKFR officials were forced to reroute several fire stations’ response routes and they are uncertain how long the new paths will be in place.

Station 56 in Seabeck greatly felt the effects of Monday’s storm. On Tuesday, the fire station was without power and was forced to run on generators.

Monday’s storm definitely kept CKFR firefighters on their toes and it may take a while for the crews to recuperate from the hectic day.

“It’s going to take a few days to recharge,” Tague said.

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