AYER — The January ice storm that knocked out power for days in northern portions of the commonwealth didn’t have a big effect in town, but it did serve as a reminder of things that happen when the lights go out.
Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi said portions of Ayer lost power during the storm, but only for a few hours. He said outages historically haven’t been a big problem.
“I shouldn’t say this, but we don’t lose power too often in Ayer,” he said.
Ice storms and falling trees are the major culprits behind outages, he said, but there isn’t a huge number of trees locally and most new developments include underground utilities.
The most recent major outage was after an ice storm in the mid-1990s. It left much of the town without power for five days, he said.
As a lieutenant with the department at the time, he said firefighters helped residents evacuate to shelters, removed down trees and lent out a half-dozen gas-powered generators to people with medical conditions that require power sources.
The same would happen during an outage today, said Pedrazzi.
“We assist anybody that needs help,” he said. “We pretty much do whatever is called for within reason.”
He pointed out that the department generally has more emergencies when the lights go out.
“There’s always more danger of a fire when the power goes out because people do things they normally wouldn’t do,” he said.
Common mistakes include using an oven to heat a home or kerosene lamps that release too much carbon monoxide, which is scentless and dangerous in enclosed areas. Even seemingly innocuous candles require care, said Pedrazzi, mentioning a home in Winchendon that burned to the ground the previous week following a candle mishap.
In the event of a major outage requiring evacuations, Pedrazzi’s work would dovetail that of town emergency manager and former fire chief Wellman Parker.
Parker is responsible for disaster planning and has secured federal grants to underwrite approximately 40 cots and over 100 blankets.
The most likely location to set those up is the cafeteria at the school complex, though Town Hall and meeting rooms at the fire and police stations are also possibilities.
Overall, Parker said the town would cope well with an extended outage, though he couldn’t remember a major evacuation since he became involved with local emergency management in 1990.
“We’ve been very lucky on that score,” he said.
That was attributed in part to a desire of most people to stay in their own homes. Under most scenarios, Parker said he’d set up a small wood stove in his fireplace and make do with that.
Pedrazzi said it’s been his experience that locals generally want to stay at home.
“Most people in New England are pretty self-sufficient,” he said.