Above and beyond

By on February 11, 2011

Public service becomes priority during blizzard
by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—Elburn firefighters, police officers, snow plow drivers, neighbors, Good Samaritans and a guy on a snowmobile rose above and beyond the usual to help those in need during Tuesday’s blizzard. They rescued stranded travelers, responded to emergencies that may have saved lives and kept the roads passable as long as possible during Tuesday’s blizzard.

The snow started falling Tuesday around 2 p.m., and by 9:30 or 10 p.m., the roads were too dangerous even for the snowplows. But Metra was still running, and a late train was due to arrive.

“We knew we had to keep the roads open as long as possible,” Public Works Director John Nevenhoven said. “We stayed out longer than the county and the state because we knew people were coming home from work.”

When the plow tried to keep the Metra access road open, it itself got stuck with cars backed up behind.

“It became a bit of an ordeal. We couldn’t let people onto the access road, so what do you do with the people getting off the train? We opened up the emergency access off Kansas and escorted them to the warming station at the Fire Department,” Nevenhoven said.

He drove carefully up the hill at 10 mph, keeping from going off the embankment by the streetlights that shone through the winds and snow.

According to Fire Chief Kelly Callaghan, about 15 to 20 people took shelter at the station in town, and five to six people at Station 2. Many spent the night. One man was not able to leave until Wednesday afternoon, when his road was finally opened up. Jewel donated food to the warming station.

“I was one of a group of ‘refugees’ that were stranded after arriving late at the Metra or were simply forced to abandon their vehicles,” Sycamore resident Dennis O’Sullivan shared with the Elburn Herald via e-mail. “All of the firemen were extremely welcoming and helpful during the storm that required their full attention. I can only hope they know our appreciation for the use of their fire house, the food and the gallons of coffee.”

The firefighters not only warmed stranded travelers, one, with the help of a member of a local snowmobile club, rescued a couple in their home in the middle of the blizzard. Nick Webb and his fiance Courtney were awakened in the middle of the night by their Golden Retriever, Dusty, and discovered their house was filled with carbon monoxide gas. They quickly opened all the windows and called the Fire Department.

“I thought for sure we would never see the Fire Department, or at least not for a few hours or the next day. It was between three and four o’clock in the morning with windows open and the snow blowing through the screens into our home,” Webb said. “Then in less than half an hour an Elburn fireman named Joe-I believe a 24-year old on call-and a member of the Elburn snowmobilers club came racing down the middle of the street.”

The couple was told to leave the house because the levels of carbon monoxide were three times the acceptable level.

“We are so fortunate, and so grateful to the firefighter and the snowmobiler that came out immediately. Thanks again to everyone involved. I can’t say enough,” Webb said.

Another woman is grateful for the snowplow driver, Andrew Stratton, who came to her rescue when she fell down outside her home on Conley Drive as it was getting dark on Wednesday.

“He (Stratton) saw an elderly lady lying at the end of her drive and stopped the plow to come to her assistance,” Village President Dave Anderson said. “He put his jacket on her, got her into her house, called the paramedics and waited until they arrived. He may have saved that lady’s life. Their job is to drive the trucks and plow snow. That shows the character of our employees.”

Eventually that night, even the rescuers needed to be rescued when one of the fire trucks got stuck.

“People helped get us out. One guy plowed a path to get us back to the station,” Callaghan said.

Anderson attributes the efforts to the small-town values that Elburn is known for.

“The cooperation of the Fire Department, the Police Department, the village employees, those who ran the plows and those who didn’t was awesome. That’s the small-town feel. You can have a small town even in a large city. Small town is an attitude,” Anderson said.