With crews on standby starting on Friday evening, the local fire chiefs said their departments did the best they could responding through what one of them called "a nightmare for our community."
That chief, Dennis Mirante of the Setauket Fire Department, also described it this way: "The past few days have presented us with many challenges that have been been both mentally and physically exhausting."
According to Mirante, the Setauket Fire Department received 55 calls between Friday evening and Sunday morning.
According to Stony Brook Fire Department chief Andy Seelin, his department received 17 calls during that same time frame, including a call for help with the vehicles that were stuck during the blizzard on Route 347 in Lake Grove. In another call, crews had to use one of the department's 4x4 trucks to respond to a call for help. In another call the department received, Seelin said the crews couldn't even make it down a street with their truck, so they parked, trekked about a mile to the patient's home – then brought him back to their vehicle in a "stokes basket" that they steered on top of the snowy road. One call came in from Stony Brook University, but Seelin said the university's fire marshal determined that a fire department response wasn't necessary.
"We’re disappointed the roads didn’t get open fast enough, but the fire department did what they had to do," Seelin said, adding that some of his department's volunteers couldn't get out of their homes in order to respond to the calls.
Mirante said Setauket volunteers experienced some of the same.
"Because of the unprecedented snowfall and its inherent dangers, our response was limited to life threatening conditions," he said. "... For each ambulance call, we had to send multiple vehicles and one of our plows to ensure the safety of the crew and patient, and to also ensure that the ambulance would not be yet another vehicle to succumb to the weather conditions."
"We either plowed [the streets] with our plow and got the assistance from the town or independent contractors to help clear the roads, or improvised in any way we could to find an alternate means to get the patient to the ambulance," he said.
Mirante advised residents to report their unplowed streets to the Town of Brookhaven via its website, and to keep fire hydrants clear in case of emergency.
"The fire district has recently added flag markers to the hydrants to assist in locating them. Without these markers, it would be essentially impossible to determine the hydrant location after significant snow accumulation," he said.