ALBANY, N.Y. -- Residents of West Sand Lake avoided flood damage in April thanks to steps taken by their volunteer fire service following a freak autumn blizzard more than 15 years ago.
Rensselaer County is among the 21 counties included in a major disaster declaration issued by President Bush, at the request of Governor George Pataki, in the aftermath of the April 2-4 severe storms and flooding.
This year’s storms brought only three calls to the West Sand Lake Fire Department to pump out flooded basements, according to Fire Chief Tom Delaney.
“Historically, such weather would have produced some two dozen calls for help, straining manpower and equipment,” Delaney said.
Where his department was spending about 1,000 hours annually in the late 1980s pumping basements, Delaney said that the commitment is now about 20 hours a year – a dramatic reduction in wear and tear on firefighters and their gear, as well as in avoided costs for homeowners who escaped serious damage to their structures, furnaces, water heaters and other equipment.
“The key,” Delaney said, “has been convincing homeowners to invest in the simple, inexpensive insurance of installing sump pumps.”
In early October 1987 the Capital Region was struck by an unexpected snow storm resulting in a federal disaster declaration. Tree limbs, still covered in leaves and weighed down by an overnight foot-and-a-half snowfall, came crashing to earth interrupting electric power for lengthy periods throughout the area.
“The (West Sand Lake Fire) Department answered more than 200 calls in the week following the snowfall, guarding downed power lines and pumping out cellars when the snow began melting the next day,” Delaney said, “and firefighters were called to many houses that did not have sump pumps.”
That experience prompted the department to encourage homeowners to help themselves to avoid future problems. “We’ve taken the approach that these situations (in more normal weather) are preventable.”
Under department policy adopted in the wake of the 1987 disaster, the first time firefighters respond to a pumping call, they ask the homeowner to sign a document, promising to take precautions against future flooding, primarily by installing a sump pump.
“The policy is working,” Delaney said. “We get very few repeats.”