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September 18, 2013

Rochester recognizes September as Preparedness Month

Rochester fire chief: ‘We’re ready’

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — September is National Preparedness Month, and Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik is confident the city of Rochester is well equipped to handle a major disaster or emergency.

“I’m proud to go ahead and tell you that we are ready, in the event that a disaster were to happen. We hope that it doesn’t, but we train every month like it does, and we’re prepared in the event that something does happen,” he said.

A year and a half ago, Cieslik said, Rochester City Council adopted the Oakland County Hazard Mitigation Plan as the city’s official emergency response plan.

“In that plan, however, each city has an appendix which we need to do in conjunction with the county emergency management team — a self-assessment as to those items which we think are most important to the city of Rochester,” he said.

On Sept. 9, the Rochester City Council unanimously adopted an updated Hazard Mitigation Plan, which includes information specific to local hazard priorities and identifies desired hazard mitigation strategies citywide.

In the updated plan, Cieslik points out that the city is most at risk for emergencies and disasters related to structural fires, tornados, flooding, heavy winds, electrical damage and power outages, ice storms, and hazardous material accidents.

In the report, Cieslik identified the city’s historic downtown as “an area of great concern from the loss of fire” because of the age of the buildings and the dated electrical wiring. He said the city has joined the Mutual Aid Box Alarm Association for Oakland County, which links the city to 38 other fire departments in the county to assist with fires.

“We have predetermined box alarm cards so with a simple call to our dispatch, we have predetermined responses from our area communities if the fire is larger than we can handle,” he said.

Cieslik noted that the city also has a “poor power grid,” according to DTE officials, and said the department has been taking steps to prepare for power outages and electrical damage.

“We do have citizens in our area, especially in the area that’s affected by the weak grid, that rely on electricity for medical needs, such as air purification for oxygen and those types of things, so between us and the DPW, we do have some portable generators that we can go ahead and move to those people’s houses in the event that we do have that problem,” he said. “Although we can’t go out and fix the grid problem, at least we can go out and fix the problem from an emergency-response standpoint to be able to react.”

Mayor Stuart Bikson said saying that the electrical grid in town isn’t that great is “an understatement.”

“I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it, but I think, we, as elected officials, can talk about it because I think everybody in town has had electrical issues at one time,” Bikson said.

Over the last year, the city has also taken steps to increase the manpower needed to respond in the event of an emergency.

“In the event that we had a big disaster, we knew that, immediately within the first half hour to two hours, we would be drastically challenged from the Fire Department standpoint,” Cieslik said.

So last year, the city formed a Community Emergency Response Team to support first-responders in the event of an emergency, if first-responders were unable to meet the demand for fire and medical services. Since then, the Rochester Fire Department has trained 28 CERT members who have assisted with many major community events over the last year, and coordinators hope to recruit even more community volunteers to join the program this year.

Overall, Cieslik said, the city is “well prepared” in the event of a disaster.

“In all honesty, the council has done a great job in providing us with the resources from the Fire Department to be able to respond to these natural or man-made disasters, and have put us in great position to be able to call in outside resources and put together agreements and contracts so that we’re in good shape,” he said.

For more information, call (248) 651-4470 or email RochesterCERT@gmail.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at malmond@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1060.