Ice storm causes havoc for area commuters, first responders

Highway 50 was a parking lot for hours as commuters struggled to get up the slight inclines due to ice on the road Friday evening. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Jeff Egbert)

Highway 50 was a parking lot for hours as commuters struggled to get up the slight inclines due to ice on the road Friday evening.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Jeff Egbert)

O’FALLON – O’Fallon area first responders and Public Works employees were taxed to the limit early Friday evening as a sudden ice storm caused havoc on area roads.

The ice began to fall around 4 p.m. making roads treacherous. Police Chief Eric Van Hook said that before it was all done, the O’Fallon Police Department responded to 490 calls for service, of which 145 were for car accidents. He said there were no major injuries reported in the car accidents.

“Probably the worst were slip and falls. Most of the traffic accidents happened at fairly low speeds. So while many were unavoidable collisions, they at least were not at a high rate of speed,” Van Hook said.

Making matters more interesting, Friday was the first full day of service for the newly consolidated 911 dispatch center serving O’Fallon, Shiloh and Fairview Heights. Van Hook told the City Council at their meeting Monday night that the new dispatch center operated without problem and did a great job prioritizing calls based on their severity.

“We tested it. We had every position filled in dispatch and there was a lot of teamwork and no panic. They did what they could do. They prioritized calls perfectly and I think they did a great job responding to the needs of the community,” Van Hook said. “Police, fire, and EMS were all taxed way beyond the resources we have available. We were able to bring in extra medics, police officers, and firemen, but often they were just as helpless as the public because they relied on salt trucks to salt the way for EMS to make their transports. More than a few times they had priority transports and we had to divert salt trucks to them so they could help them make their way to the hospital.”

Van Hook also complimented the public works department for helping emergency vehicles respond to calls. In one situation, a three-week-old infant with a high fever needed immediate help getting to a local emergency room. The ambulance responding to the call got stuck in ice and public works employees immediately responded to help get the ambulance out of the ice so it could get to the infant.

“I know a lot of people might have been upset that it took a while to get the salt out there but [public works employees] were responding to our request that we needed help for people who were in need of medical care or accidents,” Van Hook said.

The chief said he and the rest of the first responders hope this storm was a one time fluke and won’t happen again for a while.

“The biggest challenge to first responders is that feeling of helplessness. When those calls are coming in, when people need your help, and you have no resources. It doesn’t take long for our ambulance service to be overburdened with calls. We found our mutual aid partners were also swamped with calls. That’s one of the hardest things is that feeling of wanting to help when that call comes out but you can’t,” Van Hook said.

See also: Local church opens its doors to stranded motorists