Winter Storm Safety: What You Need to Know

boy with shovel

Let it Snow? Notsomuch.

Massachusetts gets a bad rap for winter weather. Case in point: the winter of 2014-15 had a record-breaking snowfall of 110.6 inches according to the National Weather Service in Boston. Records and snowblowers aside, New England winters can be extremely harsh and unpredictable. Rated 10th in the Every State Ranked by How Miserable Its Winters Are list by Thrillist's Kevin Alexander and Matt Lynch, Massachusetts winters provide more than fodder for bloggers and watertight weather reporters: they can be downright dangerous.

Many of the hardier natives of New England (and her winters) take it all in stride. "It's just something we deal with," they reluctantly comment when asked by their southern friends about how they cope with sub-zero temperatures and blizzards. Others remember their New England childhood winters to be something like Randy Parker's from A Christmas Story:

 

BREWSTER AMBULANCE WINTER PREPAREDNESS

In addition to offering you tips on how to stay safe and be prepared during the winter, we take extra precautions at Brewster Ambulance. Here are just a few of the ways we plan, prepare and operate in the winter:

  • Base Preparedness—Our major facilities and dispatch centers are backed up with heavy duty generators and have redundancies in place. If power is interrupted, our intricate systems, operations and communications remain operational. We also maintain contracts with local providers to keep our locations plowed, so ambulances can get out quickly. 

  • Vehicle Preparedness—Our team has access to automated vehicle location (AVL) tracking systems to map them to a call in the event that street signs are out, plowed over or buried in snow. A large number of our fleet is all-wheel drive (AWD) for dispatching to calls when roads have not been cleared yet. Our patient compartments in our ambulances are climate controlled as well, adding to the comfort and safety of our patients and crews.

  • Patient Preparedness—We've stocked towels, umbrellas and custom, winter-grade blankets in all Brewster Ambulance Service vehicles to keep patients warm and dry. We developed a special way to wrap patients with our blankets that keeps them comfortable during transport. We call it the "Brewster Wrap," and our team takes pride in providing that extra consideration for patients. This is especially important clinically as many bodily processes are negatively impacted as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures.

  • Municipal Preparedness—We are in constant communication with our 9-1-1 Emergency Ambulance Service municipal partners regarding all pending storm activity or extreme cold forecasts. We monitor and track weather patterns and have direct contact with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), which provides us live updates on power outages and other environmental impacts. We reach out to our municipalities and offer to increase service at no extra cost. For outlying hospitals in remote areas, we dedicate a crew to those facilities to reduce response time.

  • Community Preparedness—For the homeless, elderly or home bound with chronic medical conditions, we work with our municipalities to check on residents to make sure their homes are warm and they have food, for example, or roll out campaigns to distribute winter hats, gloves and socks to the homeless or needy ("Operation Stay Warm" in Brockton, for example). By paying extra attention to these needs in our communities and communicating it to the right authorities who can help, everyone can get through the winter more safely. We also coordinate with our municipalities to provide assistance to residents who depend on electricity for medical equipment such as ventilators, and provide transport for any as a result of a power outage.

  • Recovery Preparedness—The Brewster Ambulance Drone Fleet is deployed for pre- and post-storm aerial imagery capture for our municipalities. We pilot our drones over coastal areas, bridges, roadways, structures—wherever the city or town requires aerial imagery to evaluate erosion, damage or other results of winter storm activity. We also pilot our drones over ice-covered ponds and reservoirs to determine if an animal or person has fallen through the ice, which saves hours of search time.

 

Winter does create a variety of challenges that we all have to deal with, whether we're shoveling a driveway in Bridgewater or maintaining safe vehicle distance in heavy snow and ice commuting to work on the Mass Pike. Here are a few things we want to remind you of as you navigate this and future winters here in the wild wonderful Northeast.

Tips for Your Winter Storm Preparedness

Nor 'easters are especially potent when it comes to dumping inches—sometimes feet—of snow in a short period of time. As these systems approach, keep abreast of weather reports. Being prepared for the worst is always the best, and never underestimate the power of severe winter storms. Some of these tips may seem obvious or steps you already take to prepare for the big storm, however, refer to this checklist to assure the safety and well being for you and your family:

  • Stay informed. The best preparedness is knowledge. Get the Massachusetts Alerts app or a weather radio to get the latest weather alerts and closures. Follow the directions offered by public safety officials. If they say, "Stay off the roads," stay off the roads.
  • Have a plan. For your family, for your business, for your neighbors if they are elderly or disabled. Make sure you have medical emergency kit on hand, which also should include winter clothing and blankets.
  • Be ready for power outages. There are worse things than the internet going down (although some people would disagree with that statement). Ice storms can weigh down tree limbs which can break and pull down power lines, causing dangerous live wires. Stay clear of downed lines, assume they are live, and call 9-1-1 to report them. Many homes and businesses run heating systems on electricity, and when the power goes, the heat goes with it. It could be hours or days for power to be restored. Make sure you have enough food and clothing on hand to make it without power and stay warm. Generators can come in handy during a power outage and provide not only heat, but keep essentials running like food refrigeration or medical devices.
  • Bring in Fido. Our pets may have layers of fur and love to romp in the snow, but they too can experience hypothermia and frostbite. Bring in your pets or if possible, provide adequate shelter and warming blankets to protect them from the cold. Remember that their water bowls can freeze over and include extra pet food in your emergency kit.
  • Prepare your home. There are many ways you can stormproof your home, from removing dead tree branches that could fall and cause injury or damage to your home or power lines. Clear those gutters so water flows away from your home when the snow and ice melts. Add insulation and seal doors and windows with caulk and weather stripping to keep those frigid winds out. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, clean that chimney and stock dry wood. If your heating with oil, make sure you have enough fuel. Since windows and doors are mainly closed during winter months, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries.
blizzard storm warning highway sign in north Boston
 

During and Post Storm Tips

Just because the worst has passed doesn't mean you should let your guard down. During and just after storms can have as much risk. Here are a few things to consider during and after the storm has passed:

  • Stay connected. Make sure that you're still monitoring your emergency information and continue to follow instructions from public safety officials. If there is an emergency, call 9-1-1 including downed power lines and gas leaks. Local authorities also can tell you where local warming centers or shelters are available or call 2-1-1 for that information. 
  • Don't overdo it. When shoveling show, or digging out a vehicle or fire hydrant, take frequent breaks to prevent overexertion. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack, which is a leading cause of death during winter months.
  • Watch the CO. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Clear your tailpipes of snow prior to starting your vehicle and clear exhaust vents from gas furnaces. Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries, as CO is an odorless, invisible gas.
  • Consider snow volume. Check your roof for accumulated snow and clear off if possible to avoid those sudden collapses or dumps of large volumes of roof snow. Also, don't park too closely to the street or street corners so public safety vehicles and snowplows can maneuver.
  • Be neighborly. Check on your neighbors and stay connected. Sometimes it can be a while before emergency vehicles can reach an address, but neighbors are always closest and can provide assistance, even if it's in the form of a friendly visit to chat about the storm. Check on neighbors who may be alone, elderly, disabled or have medical conditions. Call your friends and family to let them know you're okay or check on them if they are also in the area affected by the storm.
  • Be patient. One of the most frustrating things about storms is when they are the source of inconveniences such as closing roads, shutting down businesses, power loss (there goes the internet) or property damage. Try to be lighthearted and patient regarding these outages and allow authorities to clear roads (stay off the roads until they are clear), repair downed power lines (always assume a downed power line is live and call 9-1-1 to report), and restore power. Thousands of people can be impacted by winter storms and public safety officials and rescue operations are in full swing getting things cleared and back online.
  • Drive with care. When the roads are finally cleared and you've been given the okay to resume driving, be safe. Follow safe driving practices and make sure that your vehicle is winterized and able to navigate winter conditions such as snow tires, even chains if it becomes necessary. Make sure your car is equipped with emergency food, medical kit, blankets and water in case you get stuck or your car breaks down.

For more information regarding being prepared for winter storms visit the Massachusetts Public Safety website.

 
girl throwing snow

Enjoy the Winter Beauty

Above all, winter is another wonderful season that can be enjoyed. Take time to bundle up, enjoy the snow, skiing, skating, hiking and snowball battles. Keep yourself active, be safe and have fun.