National Guard summoned to help
Tina Bollman took her first ride in a Humvee in 1993 when a blizzard shut down the state's highways.
The Pennsylvania National Guard drove Bollman, a nurse, from her Penn Borough home to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where she worked four consecutive days.
Bollman took her second ride in a Humvee on Wednesday, this time as a patient.
A National Guard Humvee took Bollman to a dialysis clinic in Greensburg because she was snowed in. She needs the kidney-cleansing treatment three times a week.
"I usually drive myself, but the plows came through and plowed in front of my driveway," Bollman said. "My husband dug as much as he could."
Spc. Rod Maze of Washington, who returned in September from a tour in Iraq, was called out Tuesday night to drive one of the Humvees. He helped Bollman and another dialysis patient in and out of the combat vehicle, and nurses met them at the door of the clinic at Excela Health Westmoreland.
"This is what we signed up for, to help the community," Maze said.
Maze was one of 470 Guardsmen called up because of the snowstorms in Western Pennsylvania, bringing 117 Humvees, six ambulances and two tactical vehicles that are operating out of Ford City and the Crane Avenue armory in Pittsburgh.
"They will continue to serve as long as the state of the emergency exists," said Sgt. Matt Jones, a spokesman for the Guard. "There was another round of call-ups today, mostly for Central Pennsylvania. In Western Pennsylvania, they'll continue the duties that they're doing now. In Central Pennsylvania, they will man road closings."
A fleet of 15 Humvees and 116 soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the 110th Infantry of the National Guard fanned out through Westmoreland, Fayette, Indiana, Allegheny, Washington and Greene counties to help police and medical personnel answer calls and pick up people who need medical treatment.
Lt. Col. Ros Gammon, who commands the 1st Battalion, said he is pairing soldiers with police officers, state troopers and medics who can't respond to emergency calls in their regular vehicles because of hazardous road conditions.
He said the Humvees are new and heavily armored, and their weight makes them easy to maneuver in deep snow.
Gammon is overseeing an operations center at the Mt. Pleasant armory, outfitted with electronic screens and maps that show the storm's path and the location of each military vehicle. Each Humvee has a GPS to help drivers find locations, but Gammon said the storm has caused problems for the system.
"The snow is kicking its butt," he said. "It's not working as well in the snow as we'd like."
He has dispatched vehicles and an officer to every emergency operations center. When a county asks for help, the officer sends the request to Gammon, who forwards it to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for approval.
Dan Stevens, a spokesman for Westmoreland County Emergency Management, said five Humvees are available in Westmoreland, including one for use by the state police at Greensburg and another at the Kiski Valley station.
Stevens said the agency requested 14 vehicles for the county, to be used for law enforcement and emergency medical personnel. "We planned to place Humvees in communities across the county, from New Kensington to Ligonier, to assist the local police departments," he said.
Maj. Cory Angell, a Guard spokesman, said he expects there will be 17 vehicles stationed in Westmoreland.
In Fayette County, soldiers and two Humvees were stationed at the Public Service Building in Uniontown, said Roy Shipley, director of the Emergency Management Agency. He said the Humvees were brought in primarily to help answer ambulance calls.
Bob Topper, administrative director, said the agency has been using four-wheel-drive vehicles to answer calls. In some instances, medics have used a truck equipped with a snowplow to reach homes, he said. Once an ambulance reaches a home, paramedics have to contend with deep snow.
"You're trying to carry a patient on a stretcher through 20 inches, or more, of snow," Topper said.
Jeannette police Chief Jeff Stahl said icy, snow-covered streets in the city forced him to ask for help from the Guard because officers can't use their patrol cars.
"Once we get them in place, we're going to be using them to patrol the streets," Stahl said. "If there is an emergency in another community, we'll be assisting them with that Humvee."
When a police officer arrested a man for public intoxication early yesterday, it took him 40 minutes to take the man 1.2 miles from the police station to Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital at Jeannette, a trip that normally takes about four minutes.
"We used the four-wheel-drive pickup truck from the road department," Stahl said. "It's very difficult to do this job with the weather."
Mike Cafasso, operations manager for Jeannette EMS, said the weather has meant slower response to emergency calls.
"With the streets as bad as they are, crews are trying to keep up," Cafasso said. "We're going to do our best to get to you as quickly and as safely as possible."
In Penn Township, the emergency operations center in the township building has been opened, and warming centers have been set up at the Grandview Volunteer Fire Department and Claridge Fire Department's Colton Hall.
National Weather Service forecast
Snow and gusting wind will continue until this afternoon. Another inch of accumulation is expected. Friday will be cloudy with light wind. There's a 30 percent chance of snow Saturday and Sunday. A blizzard warning was expected to remain in effect until 4 a.m. today for Westmoreland and Fayette counties. The winter storm warning for Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Forest, Lawrence and Mercer counties was expected to expire at 7 p.m. Wednesday. As of that time, the weather service recorded 7.7 inches of new snow yesterday at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Schools cancelled today
Upper St. Clair
West Jefferson Hills
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Community College of Allegheny County
Allegheny County Fire Academy classes
Schools with 2-hour delays:
Ninety percent of Pittsburgh International Airport's departing flights were late or canceled Wednesday, according to flightstats.com. Some flights were delayed. Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny urged travelers to check the status of flights before heading to the airport. Contact information for airlines can be found at www.pitairport.com/airlines .
Amtrak cancelled service Wednesday on its Capitol Limited trains, which travel from Chicago to Washington through Cleveland and Pittsburgh. One train each way from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, Philadelphia and New York, was running on the Pennsylvanian line, said spokeswoman Tracy Connell. Service updates can be found at www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c•Page&pagename•am%2FLayout&cid•1237608335997
Port Authority Transit
Port Authority had all but 17 of its bus routes in service Wednesday, although detours are in place to avoid poor road conditions. T routes and the Mon Incline operated normally, but the 52 Allentown light-rail route was closed. To find out about today's Port Authority outages and detours, check www.portauthority.org or twitter.com/pghtransit .
PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reduced the speed limit to 45 mph and restricted certain vehicles on toll roads, interstates and expressways statewide, urging motorists not to travel unless necessary. The restrictions included overweight and overheight trucks; trucks with tandem trailers; trucks with empty trailers; passenger vehicles hauling trailers; motorcycles and RVs. The speed and vehicle restrictions could remain in place today if high wind continues.
Gov. Ed Rendell ordered the closing of Interstates 83 and 78 and part of Interstate 81 from the Maryland border to its connection with Interstate 80, as well as non-tolled interstates in the southeastern part of the state. The Schuylkill Expressway and Interstates 476, 176 and 676 closed to all but emergency vehicles. The eastbound lanes of I-80 in Clearfield County were closed for several hours because of two pileups that involved about 25 vehicles that left one man dead and 18 people hurt.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 1,500 Duquesne Light and 3,000 Allegheny Power customers remained without power. Duquesne expected to restore electricity to customers in the North Hills and eastern Allegheny County by last night, and to those in Pittsburgh and the South Hills by tonight. Those in western Allegheny County and Beaver County should be restored by Friday night.
About 470 National Guard members are serving in Western Pennsylvania, bringing with them 117 Humvees, six ambulances and two trucks weighing 2 1/2 tons each that are operating out of Ford City and the Crane Avenue armory in Pittsburgh.
PA National Guard Snow Assistance
Pennsylvanian National Guardsmen with HHB 107th out of New Castle assist EMS crews as as their 4x4 support, Monday, February 8, 2010.