By Pat Grubb
Fire commissioner Virginia Lester was fulsome in her praise of fire chief Christopher Carleton and assistant chief John Shields in the wake of the violent windstorm that brought most of Point Roberts to a crashing halt on December 20 and 21. Speaking at the commission’s first regular meeting of 2019, Lester said, “I think the community owes a great gratitude to you, chief, and the assistant chief, John, for the professional way in which you carried out your role in this disaster. Watching all the volunteers that you sent out to help and how dedicated they all were and how hard they were working, I think we all have to realize that it’s such an important part of their jobs but they did it so well.”
In response, Carleton heaped praise on the volunteers as well as other groups and participants for stepping up during a difficult time. He told commissioners that he had scheduled a meeting for January 11 to discuss how the response was handled and what could be done to improve operations in future events. “It was a great, real exercise that put our training in the past to the test and I want to thank our volunteers who did the majority of the recovery work,” he said, going on to single out PREP, the food bank and park commissioner Bennett Blaustein who coordinated efforts at the community center. Volunteers had come from as far away as North Vancouver, driving for an hour and a half and immediately going out into the storm and working for 10 hours straight, he said.
Asked if he wanted the public to help with road and tree clearing, Carleton was cautious, saying he didn’t want people helping out until a storm is over. “They should remain inside until the danger has passed,” he said. He pointed out the fire department’s role is to clear the roads to allow for emergency vehicle access but they will not touch any trees until electrical lines are removed or declared de-energized by Puget Sound Energy. Shields pointed out that people will connect up generators to power their home, not realizing that they are back-feeding energy into downed lines.
Carleton said untrained volunteers risk serious injury or death because cutting downed trees is not like cutting firewood at home. “Trees may look like they’re flat on the ground but they’re still under tremendous forces from roots,” and other dynamic forces, he said. He also cautioned people to still be extremely careful while walking in the woods and on roadsides. “There’s a lot of widow makers out there ready to fall down.” He estimated that upwards of a 100 trees fell onto the roads during the storm. “There’s lots of trees out there for woodworkers,” he said.
In other district news, Virginia Lester was elected commission chair while Pat Harper was named vice-chair in the annual election of officers. There are two candidates interested in filling Bill Meursing’s seat on the commission from which he resigned in December. Finally, the two commissioners approved raising their pay from $114 to $128 per meeting.