Weathering the storms with a lot of help

89

The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution on Dec. 7 to classify the Archuleta County Combined Dispatch Center (ACCDC) as an agency of emergency and first responders. 

That resolution notes that 911 dispatchers were categorized as “Office and Administrative Support Occupation,” which fails to acknowledge the role that these dispatchers play in “public safety and homeland security, their employees’ specialized training and skills, and their uniquely stressful work environment.”

The resolution passed by the commissioners reads in part, “WHEREAS, the Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act of 2019 (‘911 SAVES Act’) would reclassify 911 dispatchers as a Protective Service Occupation under the SOCS alongside police, firefighters, security guards, lifeguards, and others whose job it is to protect our communities.”

The resolution explains that the 911 SAVES Act has been stalled in Congress and that ACCDC plays “a critical role in emergency response within Archuleta County, providing lifesaving services for the public and ACCDC user agency field unit.”

Here at The SUN, we have viewed these dispatchers as heroes and first responders for years. We are pleased to see them get the recognition that they deserve. 

They proved their tremendous value to the community once again with the past two snowstorms.

Friday morning, the ACCDC was busy along with the crews at La Plata Electric Association (LPEA). 

According to Emergency Communications Director Katie Harr, “Dispatch suffered a critical and complete power failure.”

Many of us were snuggling deeper under the blankets as our power was also failing, while LPEA utility workers were heading out to combat the effects of the heavy, wet snow.

One update from LPEA reads: “Since around 10 p.m. on Thursday, December 9, we’ve been experiencing widespread outages throughout LPEA’s service territory. We immediately dispatched 100% of our crews, and they worked through the night to restore as many outages as possible.

“On Friday, December 10, as the winds picked up and temperatures rose, snow began dropping from our power lines, causing lines to slap together and open, stopping the flow of electricity (similar to how breakers work in your home). The heavy and wet snow also broke tree limbs and power poles, which caused additional outages.

“This storm was more widespread than we usually experience, equally hitting all 3,531 square miles of our service territory. That means 2,000 miles of line are experiencing line slapping and limbs and poles breaking. At our peak, we had 114 outages impacting more than 10,000 members.”

As we prepare to go to press on Wednesday, another storm is wreaking havoc with additional power outages, school closures and even the ski area delaying its opening for the day. Tree limbs litter the roadways due to the high winds.

Storms from last week and this week brought back memories of the winters that longtime Pagosans experienced in “the good old days.”

Archuleta School District was proactive in calling for a snow day on Friday when the administration was made aware of the forecast. A two-hour school delay on Wednesday turned into a full snow day as conditions worsened. Our hats are off to the district leadership for keeping students and staff safe and home.

Local meteorologist Shawn Prochazka from Pagosa Weather was busy making sure we were all aware of the pending storm and the potential danger.

Archuleta County, the Town of Pagosa Springs and Colorado Department of Transportation crews were out before daylight working to open our roadways during the storms.

Thankfully, there weren’t nearly the number of calls for Pagosa Fire and EMS to assist with accidents as we had expected, but they were busy nonetheless. 

While the power outages were challenging for dispatchers, communications seemed to run smoothly and efficiently.

Utility crews and public employees went above and beyond the call of duty, working around the clock to clear and repair damaged power lines and restore services.

During storms like these past two, towing companies are on call, ready to pull unlucky people out of ditches. Unfortunately, there are many people who are just plain careless and who need to slow down or just not get out on the roads at all. 

Friends showed up for friends, neighbors showed up for neighbors and Pagosans pulled together to weather the storms, like generations of Pagosa folks have always done.

There’s nothing like discovering that neighbors and friends have already plowed your driveway for you. Or when a neighbor shows up with a tow chain to pull this editor out of the ditch after she stops to take pictures of turkeys blocking the road. That’s how things come together in Pagosa Country. 

You should always be prepared for storms and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Make sure you have your prescriptions refilled before a storm hits. Water, first aid supplies, pet supplies, batteries, canned heat, flashlights, candles and heating fuel are a few things you should keep on hand. 

Do you have enough food for a few days? Bread, eggs and milk are often cleared off the shelves before a big storm.

Do you have a full tank of gas in your car and tires with good tread? Emergency supplies in your car can come in handy.

And, don’t forget to check on your neighbors to be sure they are doing OK. Pagosans are a caring sort of people who pull together during these storms. 

One winter storm, we witnessed two people getting stuck in an alleyway downtown. Both times, strangers came to the rescue. One man picked away at thick ice to free a car. Three SUN employees came to the rescue of a Jeep spinning on ice and pushed it until the vehicle started moving again.

When a county plow truck got stuck along a residential street, a homeowner delivered a cup of hot coffee to the driver while he waited to be pulled out of the ditch.

Those of us who have lived here for some time are accustomed to heavy, wet snowstorms, we don’t always stop and think about our snowplow and tow truck drivers, utility crews, first responders, emergency services personnel, complete strangers, friends and neighbors who help us out when we need it the most. 

We thank these people for their incredible heart and persistence as they worked to restore services. We commend them for their assistance, hard work and unwavering dedication.

We extend a sincere thank you to everyone in our community for pulling together for a job well done.

Terri Lynn Oldham House