Humvees replace squad cars Police, National Guard get through on vehicle, but firefighters hampered

Blizzard Of 1996

January 09, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Greg Tasker, Jay Apperson and Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.

Police officers and firefighters throughout snow-battered Maryland struggled yesterday to fight crime and help those in need, reinforced by a call-up of the National Guard that brought military Humvees to civilian streets.

Countless car accidents and abandoned vehicles kept thousands of public safety officials busy, but few major problems were reported. Still, rescue workers battled the elements to provide even basic services to citizens.

By last night, more than 400 Maryland National Guard members were on duty, many driving the olive-colored Humvees that replaced the popular Army jeeps at the onset of the Persian Gulf war, and are being used in Bosnia.

The powerful four-wheel-drive vehicles allowed rescue workers to cut through snowdrifts that trapped cars and bring help to thousands of stranded homeowners, from Cumberland to streets downtown Baltimore.

"If it wasn't for these Humvees, there wouldn't be any police protection in parts of this city," said Baltimore Officer Brian Sewell.

Sub-freezing temperatures hampered firefighters who fought a four-alarm fire Sunday night in a warehouse for a diaper company in Southwest Baltimore. In Prince George's County, a ceiling collapsed in the dining room of a nursing home, forcing the evacuation of 125 patients, but causing no injuries.

Homeowners in Woodbine, in Carroll County, poured pans of water on a chimney fire yesterday morning because it took firefighters nearly one hour to respond on roads covered with snow drifts up to 6 feet deep.

And in Sparks, in northern Baltimore County, residents used buckets to douse a small house fire when a fire engine, two four-wheel-drive trucks and a Humvee could get no closer than a quarter-mile.

"Firefighters have had difficulty suppressing some of the fires because of the bitter cold and restricted access," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas. "Our overwhelming concern is that in some of these developments, roads have not been plowed at all. That could result in life threatening situations."

Ten blazes damaged homes, garages and part of an apartment building in Columbia, Frederick and Harford and Kent counties. Several people were left homeless. The fires caused a total $375,000 in damages.

At least 150 Holstein cows were killed yesterday when heavy snow caused a barn roof to collapse at a large dairy farm near Woodsboro, in Frederick County.

"The snow blew around so much there was no way we could get a reasonable count," said owner Glenn Eaves Sr. "The snow is extremely deep. Snow was covering up the cows as fast as we could find them."

City police have been ordered into what is called "fixed positions" for much of the storm, meaning they are required to park near the center of their patrol area and respond only to emergency calls. Officers were to keep the emergency lights on their cruisers flashing at all times.

A Phase 2 snow emergency remained in effect yesterday for Baltimore, meaning drivers are required to have snow tires, chains or approved radial tires on their cars. Parking is forbidden on snow emergency routes.

Several stores in Baltimore were broken into Sunday night, but city police said there was no evidence of looting that occurred during a major snow storm in 1979. One convenience store in West Baltimore was hit twice, Sunday night and yesterday morning, when someone shattered the front plate-glass door.

Two police officers riding in a Humvee out of the Central District sped past a stuck police cruiser in the 700 block of N. Fremont Ave., arriving in time to arrest a suspect carrying a sledgehammer from 77 Grocery.

Many officers patrolled in four-wheel-drive trucks and 25 Humvees that have been dispersed to the nine district stations. Yesterday afternoon, a Humvee allowed Officer Sewell to patrol his assigned area, around the Murphy Homes public housing high-rise, where most streets remained unplowed and virtually unaccessible.

The officer pointed out several drug dealers still plying their trade, but for the most part, children played as their parents dug out cars that seemed to be strewn over side streets.

"We can get through pretty easily," said Staff Sgt. Paul Hayden, with the 29th Military Police Company out of Pikesville, as he guided the vehicle designed for war down Myrtle Avenue near Murphy Homes, a high-crime street that hadn't had a cruiser pass by since Saturday night.

One woman approached the Humvee and asked Officer Sewell if the driver could cut a path down to her snowbound home so an oil truck could make a crucial delivery. He couldn't. "Just keep calling," the officer urged.

The last time the Maryland National Guard was called up for state-wide duty was for the snow storm in 1979. They helped out on a limited basis during storms in 1987 and 1993.

Lt. Gen. James F. Fretterd, commander of the Maryland National Guard, said his troops helped police and firefighters on 43

serious incicents across the state.

A Humvee drove up the side of a mountain in Cumberland to get repair crews to a radio tower crutial for emergency communications. They transported kidney dialysis patients to hospital, got doctors and nurses to hospitals, helped clear snow and rescued scores of stranded motorists.

"Those kinds of things are very heartwarming and make it all worthwhile," General Fretterd said.

In Baltimore, Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. said many firefighters came in early to help out. The only problems were getting to homes, getting around stranded cars and finding snow-covered hydrants.

State emergency workers continued to urge people to stay inside. "We really have not seen anything like this in the last 10 years," Chief Thomas said. "Fire rescue workers are really strapped dealing with the elements."

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