The call came in around 8 a.m.
With New York in a state of emergency, any willing emergency personnel who could be spared were asked to respond to the suburbs of Buffalo to help residents as the dug out their homes following a snowstorm that left the region buried under feet of snow. By about 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22, units from Albany County had met at Crossgates Mall before heading west.
“As a firefighter, it’s part of the job,” said Bill Asprion, Selkirk Fire Chief. “It’s exciting and challenging because we’re not in our own neighborhood anymore. It can also be dangerous because we don’t know the towns or streets.”
Many of the area’s fire departments sent crews and equipment. This included departments from North Bethlehem, Elsmere, Delmar, Guilderland Center and Coeymans, among others. Firefighters from Slingerlands Fire Department also responded, but under other capacities.
Some areas of the Buffalo region saw up to 8 feet of snow after a lake-effect storm struck. The roofs of some homes and businesses collapsed under the weight of all that snow, and there was a fear that flooding could occur as temperatures rose later that week.
After responding to Buffalo, firefighters were stationed at fire departments throughout the region in order to provide a break for those who worked there.
“What happens is the local fire department gets overwhelmed,” said Asprion. “That’s where we come in to pick up the pieces. We help keep them safe and alive.”
Selkirk’s team of team of seven men was stationed at Big Tree Fire Department near Hamburg, the heart of the storm. They stayed for 72 hours before another crew was brought in.
Mostly the crew responded to help pump out basements as temperatures rose.
According to the Selkirk fire chief, the snow was very deep but melted quickly. Sometimes the crew was called to check on carbon monoxide levels or for a gas main break. At one point, the unit had to rescue a man off the roof of a Home Depot who had injured his leg while dealing with the snow.
During down times, the Selkirk crew cleaned the fire station and its equipment. Asprion said they wanted to make sure the local firefighters were in good shape when they returned to their station, and they seemed very grateful.
Delmar Fire Chief Dan Ryan said his department also sent seven firefighters and some equipment. They worked at a total of three stations while there and also responded to pump out basements and deal with downed wires.
“For us, it was amazing to see that much snow,” said Ryan. “I had never seen anything like in that short amount of time. You’d be driving along fine, and then all of a sudden be in 7 feet of snow.”
Ryan said members of his department responded in order to help.
“Hopefully if we ever have the same situation, there is the same amount of people that would help us,” he said.
The Elsmere Fire Department sent six firefighters and an engine. They first reported to a station in Hamburg, before splitting up to Lakeside Fire Department where they helped assist with sandbags and pumping. Sometimes they were called to car accidents.
“It’s really a sacrifice on everyone’s part, including the families,” said Elsmere Fire Chief Jim Reagan, who was unable to respond with members of his department. “I know they were well taken care of… but they’re glad to be back. Just a little tired.”
Asprion said the experience was bittersweet.
“It was overwhelming, the amount of initial snowfall,” said Asprion. “Some of the people, what they went through, you could see the fear on their faces. But everyone was very thankful we were there and appreciative.”