Fire chief advises residents on preparing for emergencies

A tree worker cuts through fallen tree limbs on Mimosa Court Friday, May 18. — Peter Yankowski photo

A full bathtub, a LED flashlight, a tank of gas — those were just some of the things town agencies advise residents to have on hand in case of a storm or other emergency. But for senior citizens living in this suburban town that sometimes feels more rural than urban, disaster preparation means stocking up on things like oxygen tanks, doctor’s prescriptions, and emergency medical pendants.  

That was the main topic at a July 16 meeting of the town Commission on Aging, presented by Fire Chief Jerry Myers, and community emergency volunteers Gerri Lewis and Vivian Epstein.

Far from the stuff of doomsday prepping, Myers and the two volunteers from the town Community Emergency Response team focused on the most likely disasters to affect senior residents — which in Ridgefield means storms, Myers said.

“We lose our transportation ability. The buses don’t run, we can’t get out in our car because of the snow or whatever,” he said.

Chairwoman Christine Robertson of the commission showed the room an emergency medical pendant which she said she wears everywhere she goes — even in the shower, as the distress beacon is waterproof.

The chief suggested seniors ensure they have their prescriptions filled and any medical devices — including oxygen tanks — prepared for a storm. He noted that the town only has about 10 hours total worth of oxygen for ambulances and other emergency situations — they lack the capacity to give out oxygen to those who can’t get out for more.

“You know the thing we deliver really well is water, and not the kind you can drink,” Myers said, which got a chuckle out the room of around 25 people, most of them seniors, who attended the meeting.

He said senior residents should hang their “file of life” cards, which contain a person’s basic medical information for first-responders, in plain view on the refrigerator.

Fire

Myers particularly noted the increased danger of fire during storms, as people often turn to fireplaces or wood-pellet stoves to cook and keep warm when the power goes out. But major storms also increase the time it will take the department to respond to a fire or other emergency, he added.

“The sooner you call, the sooner we’re going to be able to get to you,” he said.

As for fire extinguishers, the chief recommended any extinguisher that’s stamped with a UL certification and rated for ABC (wood, oil, and electrical) fires.

When snow and debris fall in chimneys, there’s also an increased risk of carbon monoxide and smoke building up in homes, Myers noted. The fire department provides seniors free CO and smoke detectors for seniors through its annual budget, he added.

Should I stay or should I go?

“The other piece that’s really important is to be prepared with stuff,” said Epstein, an information officer with CERT. “You also want to have a go-bag,” she said. The bag should include basic necessities like bottled water and food — but sometimes personal items are important, too. “My number one item is peanut M&Ms,” said Lewis, who also keeps a backup hard drive containing all of her family photos in one of her go-bags.

Copies of important documents should also be ready to leave, CERT notes, including passports, insurance info, house and property deeds, and driver’s licenses. A digital backup of the documents on a phone or tablet is a good idea, the agency notes.

The contents of a personal go-bag can vary wildly. “Hearing aid batteries— who thinks of that?” said Lewis.

Sometimes the best option is to stay right where you are.

“If you can be safe where you are, stay there,” said Myers. “If not then go out.”

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