Emergency responders say long hours just part of the job during Tropical Storm Irene

During the height of Tropical Storm Irene last week, Southborough firefighters Chris Dano and Ken Strong worked 34 hours straight responding to calls of trees and wires down and flooded basements. When not out on the road, which was most of the time, they dozed on army cots at Southborough’s spare Station 2, more garage than fire station. They subsisted on donuts and coffee. But both say they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“We’re in this because we like to help people,” Dano said. “To be able to help that many people in that short a time was gratifying.”

Dano and Strong weren’t the only ones working hard during Irene. Fire Chief John Mauro Jr. said he called in all 18 Southborough firefighters along with eight call firefighters. “Some guys were here 72 hours straight,” he said.

Police, DPW, town representatives, and members of the Southborough Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) also put in long hours both in the run-up to Irene and its aftermath.

Mauro said calls to the Emergency Operations Center set up to manage the storm response started coming in at around 9:30 am on Sunday, and by the time midnight came around, they had fielded 111 calls. Another 20 or so came in on Monday.

While trees falling on houses and across roads were some of the most visible incidents handled by emergency responders, Mauro and  Southborough Emergency Management Director of Operations Neal Aspesi said much of the work to ensure residents’ safety happened behind the scenes.

Aspesi said one of their biggest concerns was that with power out, many residents didn’t have phone service, so they couldn’t call 9-1-1 if they needed to. Aspesi said they called every senior they had contact information for to check on them. If they couldn’t reach a senior by phone, a crew was sent to knock on their door.

“A lot of effort went into protecting the safety of seniors,” Mauro said.

Aspesi said the response to Irene was the largest emergency response the town has undertaken in recent memory, but he said all involved rose to the occasion. “It’s what you do everyday, just on a larger scale,” he said.

While the height of the storm was on Sunday, Mauro said the emergency response lasted much longer than that. “Out in the street it looked like it was all over on Sunday night, but we were still monitoring and dealing with issues all week,” he said.

Aspesi said they’re still completing all the paperwork.

Firefighter Dano said despite the damage to residents’ homes and property, he saw only smiling faces when he pulled up in his fire engine. “The people in this town are so grateful,” he said.

Dano said what the was grateful for was getting home on Monday night after a very long shift.

“I was happy to see my bed that night,” he said.

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