Recent storms challenge, but fail to slow, area first responders - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Recent storms challenge, but fail to slow, area first responders

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 MADISON (WKOW) -- As severe weather hit the 27 News viewing area Monday night, emergency officials urged everyone to stay inside and off of area roads.

But first responders don't have the luxury of waiting out the storms.

"We see bad weather coming and we definitely understand there could be an increase in 911 calls," said Madison Fire Division Chief of Medical Affairs Che Stedman.

"But that doesn't mean we're going to respond any differently," Stedman said. "We're still going to put lights and sirens on and respond."

Stedman said among the biggest challenges for firefighters and medics responding to calls during severe weather is the encountering of weather-related obstacles on their routes. He said such obstacles can include cars stalled in high waters or trees fallen across roadways.

Monday's storms also brought tornado watches and warnings.

"We'll go to whatever we're called to," said Middleton Fire District Battalion Chief Brad Subera.

"If there are high winds or a tornado in the area we just have to be more mindful of how we respond" by monitoring weather, Subera said.

"If there was an actual tornado we'd seek shelter and then go out and deal with, and mitigate, the hazards," he said.

Subera said firefighters are expected to keep people away from downed trees and power lines, especially if those lines contain live wires, in addition to responding to any structure fires that might break out during storms. He said the Middleton Fire District also gets frequent calls during storms reporting people stuck in their vehicles after having driven through flood waters.

Madison Police Officer Howard Payne said the danger of driving through high water is one reason why police seek to steer drivers clear of flooded areas during storms.

"If we see there's flooding in one area, we'll try to prevent people from moving into that area," Payne said. "We'll come up with a detour of some sort."

Payne said police officers themselves often have to navigate around flooded streets when responding to emergency scenes during storms.

"It makes things difficult, but it's something we have to deal with because the public has an expectation that we're going to respond to wherever they need us," Payne said.

In Middleton, police have special protocols in place to deal with stormy weather.

Captain Troy Hellenbrand said the Middleton PD tries to station patrols around the city so they can watch for any approaching tornados or report other severe weather conditions like hail or strong winds.

Hellenbrand also said the Middleton PD opens up its doors during storms for those seeking to escape any severe weather. 

But Stedman said perhaps the biggest challenge of emergency response during severe weather is a mental one.

 "When there's severe weather, all of us might be worried about what's going on at home," he said.

"There might be high winds taking the roofs off buildings outside, so we're concerned about what's going on at home because we can't leave our post," Stedman said. "We have to stay at work and hope that our families are doing well."


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