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A community of emergency response assists those in need during storm

By Joanne Beck

Friday was one of those days for emergency responders when it seemed as though rescues and accidents made for a nonstop blur of duty.

Oakfield firefighter Bill Sturgeon’s day began around 11 a.m., and he was still on duty late into the night. And in between, there was a family from Lockport that went off the road, a Connecticut couple stuck in another spot and a boyfriend-girlfriend duo attempting a drive back to her home in Toronto.

Yet many others were out and about for unknown or frivolous reasons — one pair was going to the Rez — which perplexed the veteran firefighter.

“I thought, ‘where’s everybody going?’ The chief and third assistant pulled up to one car and asked them ‘where are you going?’ They said Canada and the chief said no, you’re not,” Sturgeon said. “We’re calling around trying to find hotel rooms. The Holiday Inn Express said they were all full, and (Chief) Sean Downing called them. They said they had two more rooms that had been shut down and needed to be cleaned. They literally opened rooms because the fire department asked them.”

Throughout the extreme weather event — an understatement, maybe — Sturgeon was awed by the cooperation of that hotel staff; Dollar General, which remained open while the stranded visitors could buy up supplies, snacks and even dog food; and the (GOOSE) Community Center’s willingness to open its doors to temporarily house people.

Plus, no doubt, the ample numbers of rescue workers from city, village, town and county law enforcement, emergency management, rescue and public works departments.

“We’re doing our best to get out there. There was a welfare check on an elderly couple; everything was fine. You have to pick and choose who you can help, and also be safe,” he said. “We’re going to take it and adjust as we see fit, and the weather sees fit. I imagine the ambulance will be here all night.”

He came upon Michael Santaferrara, who was driving from New York City to Lewiston, at the intersection of Lewiston Road and Main Street. The lost driver had been rerouted a few times and asked where he could settle in for a while. Firefighters directed the lost driver to the fire hall; however, accidents and road detours made for a more difficult journey than Santaferrara expected, he said. (See related story.)

Oakfield crews brought food into the fire hall, cooked up grilled cheese sandwiches, and served other items, including towels and blankets, to people as they ended up stranded in their travels.

A Genesee County travel ban was issued by early afternoon after multiple accidents and vehicles sliding off the road wreaked havoc with emergency response. At least one ambulance and a rescue truck got stuck as well, Sturgeon said.

Amidst all of the commotion, one brilliant occurrence was evident, he said.

“The amazement of all the firefighters here, and across the county, the Sheriff’s (personnel), everybody working together, in the interest of the public, to do what they can,” he said. “It’s huge. To see people pull together. It takes a community to come together for something like this. I saw that today.”

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