When it came to cleaning up after last October’s storm, the town of Canton bucked the trend. While neighboring communities contracted outside services for millions of dollars, Canton largely used its own town crews, supplemented by virtually free labor from low-level prison inmates and contracted tree work.
It did cost the town some $27,000 in overtime, $50,000 in fuel, $50,000 in vehicle repair, $3,400 to rent an industrial chipper and $166,000 in tree work for the clean up. All told, however, the town’s debris removal efforts came in at just a little less than $300,000.
"The Department of Public Works really stepped up to the plate and did a tremendous amount of work,” said Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner.
Some of the work was also done with the assistance of two and sometimes three low level, non-violent inmates from Somers Prison and for several weeks the town waived fees for brush removal. Local businessman Dean Martel allowed the town to use his property on Powder Mill Road for drop off and many residents helped the effort by dropping off their own brush.
While Canton is still waiting for reimbursement on other storm-related costs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent the $224,000 reimbursement for the clean-up efforts.
In addition, the Department of Public Works expended nearly $3,938 in fence repairs and the town is expecting and is expecting to receive $3,703. The town also expects to receive 75 percent reimbursement for other expenses, which came to $64,531, town officials said. Those costs include fuel and maintenance for police, fire and public works vehicles as well as overtime, $5 per call for volunteer firefighters and EMTs and supervisor salaries.
The FEMA paperwork itself was quite the task and town officials said they would be better prepared to deal with it next time. Fire Chief Richard Hutchings said it was quite challenging keeping track of time and equipment impact in the height of emergency response.
"The detailed requirements were quite extensive," he said.
Once the department heads finished their part, Finance officer Amy O'Toole said she spent 35 to 40 hours combining and working on the 6-inch stack of paperwork.
"It's a lot of work to take it all, combine it all and work with FEMA," she said.
Still, First Selectman Richard Barlow feels the town fared well compared to many others.
"The course of action Bob (Skinner) outlines and the Board of Selectmen endorsed certainly got things back up and running," Barlow said.
Town officials were also pleased with the response during the storm.
Several town emergency department heads manned the Emergency Operations Center during the storm and its immediate aftermath as emergency crews opened roads, cut debris and even transported people to the shelter at the community center.
Fire Capt. Wayne Goeben said a core group of department volunteers put in 70 to 80 hours during the height of the storm efforts while many more put in more than 25 hours.
Beyond emergency calls, the volunteers helped cut downed trees, delivered supplies to the shelter and eventually received state permission to transport people from their homes to the shelter via ambulance.
At the shelter, town officials and staff, with the help of numerous volunteers, served meals, coordinated kids programs, showed movies, extended library hours and accommodated day and overnight visitors (Canton Patch will have more about the storm efforts in a future story in this series).
“All town departments really rose to the occasion in response to the storm,” Skinner said.
Of course as with any large event, the town learned of things it could do better.
While some of the criticism of Connecticut Light and Power was warranted, a systematic power restoration approach takes time, said Adam Libros, director of Emergency Management and fire marshal for the town. Improved communications between the utility and community providers, such AT&T, has been an area of focus, he added.
In addition, Libros and Claire Cote from Department of Senior and Social Services are taking Community Emergency Response Training and plan to establish a team in Canton next spring. The effort teaches volunteers shelter running skills as well as some light-duty emergency response skills.
Officials said the volunteer effort was another shining moment in the storm.
“To me that was probably the most important aspect of all this,” said Police Chief Christopher Arciero.
Cote agrees but acknowledges it has learned to make improvements the town can make such as a more formal sign-up, a hierarchy and having enough of a rotation so people take sufficient time away.
“If you’re going to try and take care of a community, you have to take care of yourself,” Cote said.