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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cops Go Mobile, Partner Up to Serve Community in Crisis

Cops Go Mobile, Partner Up to Serve Community in Crisis:
Mobile Command Center engaged; multiple businesses and organizations contribute products & services to help homeowners still without power
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Spurred initially as a way to provide centralized information to local citizens, a Fairfield Police Traffic Safety Unit effort revolving around the department’s Mobile Command Center has blossomed into a hub of activity supported by numerous area businesses and organizations. Set up in the parking lot of the soon-to-be-opened ShopRite at 1975 Black Rock Turnpike, the Post is a welcome resource for local residents still plagued by a lack of power caused by Tropical Storm-turned-Hurricane Irene’s tumultuous visit Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Fairfield Police Lt. Jim Perez explained, “During the height of the storm (Saturday night), representatives from the DPW, Building Dept, the First Selectman, fire and police officials and UI personnel were all gathered to collaboratively assess storm damage done by Irene as it occurred. By Sunday morning, Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy decided a command post should be set up… something in town to give messages to the community, who weren’t getting it through other channels like cable, internet, etc.”

The department has owned its Mobile Command Center vehicle for the past nine years now and uses the 24-foot long behemoth for disaster emergencies, community events and other critical incidents. The vehicle was last used as a communications center during the incident a couple of weeks ago wherein a man drowned at Mohegan Lake. “It’s designed specifically to mirror the emergency services of the department,” said Perez. “Whatever we can do at headquarters can be done here, on a much smaller scale of course. We have Internet, wi-fi, telephone and radio communications.”

With regard to the initiative, “It really started as information distribution but turned into a very critical resource for support services, to make life easier for residents enduring stressful situations,” said Perez.

A member of the coordination team, Sgt. Robert Kalamaras added, “It was a centralized spot for people to get info on gas and power, then rolled into people asking for ice, water, etc.” That’s where Dominick Cingari, owner of the ShopRite,  entered the picture.

Strolling Sunday night across the parking lot, owned by Larry Roberts who gave police the space they needed for set-up, Cingari approached the vehicle’s main coordinator, Officer Wickman. He said to the officer, “Whatever you need, whatever I can do, we have coolers, ice, storage, restrooms for workers onsite.”

Cingari said one key need identified was ice. “I called my ice supplier, Crystal Ice out of Norwalk, and said I have an emergency here. We’re in desperate need of ice,” he said. “Within 15 minutes, we had 600 bags of ice. At this point, we still have 300 bags (mid-morning Wednesday), but can get more. I’m happy to be able to help the community.”

A distribution limit of two bags of ice, and three one-liter bottles, per day per family, was established. Goodie bags containing Girl Scout cookies, peanut butter crackers, snack bars, pretzels and Ready Meals were also arranged. Home Depot kicked in mini flashlights as well.

“It’s important that the community know that we have not forgotten them,” said Fairfield Police Chief Gary McNamara. “We are working just as hard as we were prior to and during the storm. Emergency personnel and volunteers running this command post is the best example of that.”

Represented onsite is not just the police department, but the Special Services Division of the Health Dept., DPW, Fire and Community Emergency Response Team.

“There will be about 10 men onsite at any given time, 24 hours a day, until power is restored to the majority of town,” said Sgt. Suzanne Lussier. “We will continue to offer services… whatever your needs are, we will serve them.”

The community response to the command post has been very positive. Said, Caron Schwartz, of Hollydale Road, who has been without power since 5 a.m. Sunday, “This center is unbelievable, very good. A neighbor called and let us know about it. The hardest thing to get is ice… it’s nowhere to be found.”

Schwartz said two trees came down on power lines by her home, causing her outage. “Fortunately, the weather is good now. The kids have been washing their hair with the hose on our front lawn. We cleaned out the freezer yesterday and had a big barbecue with friends, trying to make the best of things.”

Ann Marie O’Keefe, a Burr Street resident whose power has been out since 3:30 a.m. Sunday, said the command center is “very helpful, phenomenal.” She spoke about her situation, sharing, “We lost some white pines and maples. Nothing hit our home, so we got lucky, and the basement was dry. We’re just trying to keep the food cold. The cold showers are great – a real wake-up!”

Jean and Rolf Marx were in a similar boat as her fellow residents. “A tree fell in front of our house Sunday around 11 a.m. and pulled all the lines out,” said Jean. “We’re doing the best we can. We’re both over 80. It’s challenging, and evenings are the worst. You feel lost. You don’t know how much you need electricity until you’re without it. Thank God the tree didn’t hit the house.”

As of Wednesday at noon, over 120 cars had passed through the distribution center, and over 600 bags of ice and 144 cases of water were given out with bags of food to those in need. 

Sgt. Kalamaras was glad to see such a hearty community response. “It’s nice when the community appreciates what you’re doing,” he said. “I think we’re making an impact in a challenging situation.”

Supporting the distribution crew onsite in the way of food is Prizio’s on King’s Highway Cutoff and Fairfield Pizza at the Staples Plaza.

Sgt. Lussier informed that, as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, there are 15 roads still closed in town and 6,577 residents and customers without power, down from a over 16,000 without power during the peak of the storm. The sergeant added, “The current priorities for the town of Fairfield continue to be clearing the roadways and working with utility companies to restore power.”

Residents needing further information can call 203-254-4800. In an emergency, residents should still call 911. The police dept advises that generators should be kept away from open windows and away from the home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and to discard food that has been unrefrigerated, to avoid food poisoning.


Parish Court Elderly Housing Services: Offering transportation to nearest supermarkets, water, coffee (provided by Donut Inn), fresh produce, ice and flashlights.

Public showering facilities: Fairfield University Recreation Center, Wings Over Water @ 2221 Black Rock Turnpike (9am-5pm), Planet Fitness M-F 24 hours and Penfield Pavilion (6:30am-6pm).

Chips Restaurant: Free coffee to senior citizens.

Operation Hope: Open to the public at 5:30pm for free food on a walk-in basis.

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