For volunteer firefighters and EMTs, it comes naturally to help each other. The town of Canton Volunteer Fire and EMS Department often provides and receives “mutual aid” with neighboring departments, especially when there are overlapping calls or serious incidents.
This week the department had the chance to twice offer a helping hand to an area of the state deeply affected by the Hurricane Sandy.
The first came early Monday morning, when Assistant Chief of EMS John Bunnell; fire lieutenant and A-EMT Ryan Kerr; and fire policeman and ambulance driver John Malentacchi responded with Canton’s backup ambulance as part of a Hartford Country hybrid “strike team.” The three left Canton at 9 a.m. Monday and didn’t return until the same time the next day.
“It’s mutual aid on a much larger scale than we normally do,” Bunnell said.
This effort involved a unique situation and included departments from Avon, Bloomfield (Blue Hills) Enfield and New Britain.
After leaving in different configuration from the East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department, the team staged in several towns including Cheshire, Monroe, and Trumbull before being called to respond to Stamford and eventually Westport. While the Canton crew’s primary responsibility was to provide medical help for the rest of the team in the event of an injury, it also responded to several calls in Westport, where there was a 350-call backup.
Many of those calls were similar to work crews in Canton were doing — responding to downed wires, hazardous branches, flooded roads, trees on houses, fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and other problems.
In Canton, Hurricane Sandy packed a punch in a few places, making for some dangerous situations.
But unlike October 2011, it was not the sustained days-long approach and Canton had a few hands to spare and still provide a safe level of service in town, fire officials said.
“It was a different animal,” Bunnell said.
Like the Farmington Valley in 2011, it all looked a little surreal as the crew got closer to the shore.
“It was a little weird driving down a deserted highway,” Kerr recalled.
On Tuesday another group from Canton also helped with relief efforts, this time with a poignant assignment.
The crew on Canton’s Rescue 9 responded with a regional known as Task Force 54.
The Canton contingent consisted of Deputy Fire Chief Craig Robbins, Fire Capt. Steve Lapointe, Fire Lt. Juan Gonzalez, Fire Engineer Tom Gotaski; firefighters/EMTs Johnathan Gotaski and Stephen Goeben, firefighter/EMR Jason Ronan and firefighter Chris Melite.
They ended up helping the Easton Volunteer Fire Company, which was dealing with the tragic death of Lt. Russell Neary, who was killed by a fallen tree limb during the storm.
In the coming days, Patch will bring you more details about that assignment.