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Emergency Management: Low call volume surprising during storm, EMS vehicles stuck in snow

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

With nearly a foot of snow piling up across the area this week, emergency crews and other first responders in Lincoln County have responded to a surprisingly limited number of incidents.

According to Bill Summers, deputy coordinator for Lincoln County Emergency Management, calls from area residents didn’t start piling in until Thursday morning, a day after the snow started falling.

“It’s been a really strange storm,” he said. “It’s been very slow until early (Thurs.) morning.”

His primary concern has been getting ambulances through the covered roadways and to locations with serious medical calls.

While Emergency Medical Services maintains vehicles with snow chains, they are only equipped to travel in snow up to four inches.

“The extra depth of snow has given us a real problem,” Summers said. “It has accumulated fast, and we’ve had some ambulances that have had some real trouble getting around.”

With snow chains not working on EMS vehicles, all county fire departments have been asked to assist the agency with certain calls.

“We’ve asked all fire departments to team up with ambulance crews and dispatch one of their 4-wheel drive trucks to help get them in and out (of response locations),” Summers said.

Lincolnton Fire Chief Mitch Burgin agreed, reminding residents to be extra cautious at home since manpower has been reduced.

“Try to use extra caution (at home) and prevent the accidents and fires from happening,” he said. “Our response time will be longer than usual, and our manpower will also be reduced due to volunteers being snowed in.”

According to Chief Tim Tench with East Lincoln Fire Department, his station’s manpower on the eastern end of the county has been increased, but a high number of emergencies have not been reported like anticipated.

“Let me find some wood so I can knock it,” he said jokingly.

Additional county fire departments, including Denver and Lincolnton, witnessed low call volumes on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’ve been really quiet inside the city so far,” Burgin said.

The city fire agency had responded to no more than four calls as of Thursday afternoon. Calls involved medical emergencies and downed power lines.

More than 1,300 Lincoln County Duke Energy customers were without power as of 12 p.m. Thursday.

Updates can be viewed at duke-energy.com.

Burgin did expect emergencies to increase over night but hoped the ironic calm would continue.

“Everybody is keeping fingers crossed right now,” he said.

With weather forecasters expecting precipitation to taper off by the end of the week and temperatures to increase, Denver Fire Department’s Public Information Officer Dion Burleson believed additional accidents would still occur as people trapped inside homes finally ventured outside.

He estimated his department would respond to more calls related to trips, falls and sledding accidents in the coming days than earlier in the week.

Burleson also reminded residents to check on neighbors, particularly the elderly, and to not refrain from calling 911 if an emergency is suspected.

Lincolnton Police Department said officers have only responded to around 15 wrecks this week, with most incidents involving stuck vehicles.

Information from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol involving county-wide wreck figures was not available at time of publication.

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