With winter snow turning into raging floods Monday, local emergency responders were on high alert.
But not only were they on alert, they were also ready.
While most of us were shoveling the white stuff that had dominated the local weather scene since Christmas, emergency personnel were prepping for a major melt they knew would keep them busy.
Coventry Volunteer Fire Association Chief Joe Carilli said people need to use “common sense” when they approach flooded roads.
Mansfield Fire Marshal John Jackman said individuals should “proceed with caution” and not cross the road if there is any standing water.
“Even if there’s one inch of rain, the force can sweep cars up the road,” Jackman said.
Carilli and Willimantic Acting Fire Chief Marc Scrivener advised people to obey road closure signs.
At least two drivers in Coventry got stuck Monday because they failed to do so.
In one incident, a male driver got stuck in a Jeep SUV on Flanders River Road Monday morning.
“People go under or around cones, putting themselves and rescuers at risk,” Carilli said.
This driver, Carilli said, tried to escape the water and in doing so, got hypothermia. CVFA firefighters brought him to Windham Hospital. Another SUV driver, a woman, did the same thing later that afternoon.
The CVFA responded to both of these incidents with firefighters trained as members of the Tolland County Dive Team.
The dive unit is a group of 75 members from 22 fire departments in and around Tolland County.
Locally, this includes Andover, Ashford, Chaplin, Coventry, Mansfield and Columbia.
The unit is a water-rescue team that trains for emergency situations, including swift-water, freshwater and ice rescue.
The team uses numerous tools for rescue efforts, including scuba gear, wet suits, life jackets, fins and ropes. Tolland County Assistant Dive Commander Norman Meikle said he contacted Coventry Police Chief Mark Palmer this morning about putting the department’s watercraft on standby this week for flood incidents.
They also have a signal system that is employed under certain circumstances, so dive members can communicate with one another. In some cases, however, dive members can communicate normally. Meikle, a Mansfield volunteer firefighter, said the unit has been on standby since the possibility of a huge rainstorm two weeks ago.
“We’re trying to be more proactive than reactive on those (flooding) issues,” Meikle said.
Meikle, also a Coventry Police Department marine officer, said the team was activated Friday in response to the impending storms over the weekend.
The dive team noticed Sunday the Eagleville Dam had risen “4 feet, if not” more since Friday, Meikle said.
The dive team has responded to numerous incidents in the area, including a 2005 incident at Diana’s Pool in Chaplin, an illegal local swimming hole.
In this incident, a truck got stuck in floodwaters.
Dive team members said this incident prompted them to step up their swift-water training efforts. The team now conducts drills every month on various rescue techniques.
Meikle said six or seven dive team members were ready to be deployed at Route 66 in Columbia, where two cars got stuck Monday.
Members receive basic white-water rescue training at their departments, but they also conduct more extensive training in Massachusetts at Zoar Outdoor.
A swift-water drill has been scheduled for Wednesday night at the Coventry Volunteer Fire Association on Main Street across from town hall.
Dive team members, like other firefighters in the area, had words of wisdom for residents.
Tolland County Dive Commander John Roache advised residents to have respect for the water and what it “can and can’t do.”
Tolland County Deputy Dive Commander Mark Dittrich added people should “never ever drive through water.” “It’s hard for people to gauge the depth of the water,” Roache said.