In the aftermath of the record-breaking rainfall in Massachusetts during May, particularly in the northeastern part of the state, the State Police provided valuable assistance to local communities. The leaders of several communities, and their Emergency Management Coordinators, requested assistance and resources from the State Police. Our efforts were to help local authorities with the large task of maintaining public safety during the serious flooding conditions. Members of the Airwing, Marine Unit, and personnel from Troop-A conducted round-the-clock operations for more than three days in an effort to evacuate citizens, provide law enforcement, and rescue individuals trapped in their homes and vehicles. The actions by the State Police is a testament to our dedication to duty, motivation to help others, and camaraderie with our local public safety brethren.
A great example is the situation that unfolded in Melrose. Three five-story apartment buildings were surrounded by rising floodwaters and needed to be evacuated immediately. Without immediate action there would have been a serious potential for loss of life and injury. Many of the residents were senior citizens who were ambulatory. Sergeant James Deyermond, Troop-A Headquarters, working with other public safety personnel, devised a plan to effectively remove these at-risk citizens safely.
Using small unit support vehicles (SUSV) and water craft from the State Police Marine Unit, State Police personnel safely evacuated over 180 individuals from the buildings. Another harrowing situation involved two vehicles trapped by the rising water. One vehicle contained an adult and two young children and the other was occupied by two senior citizens. Trooper Thomas Canning, Sergeant Deyermond, and Fleet Mechanic Steve Young utilized an SUSV to travel down flooded streets until they located both vehicles. All vehicle occupants were rescued in four feet of moving water that had started to flood the interior of the vehicles. The victims were taken to a local hospital and treated for hypothermia. It is very clear that if the State Police had not located these people when they did, the situation would have ended in tragedy. This type of immediate action by our officers was repeated over and over again throughout the entire terrible ordeal. While traveling on dangerously flooded streets State Police rescued and evacuated numerous people who were trapped in their vehicles and homes.
Eventually, we switched from a rescue/evacuation mission to conducting law enforcement activities and maintaining curfew patrols. Working with local authorities, we patrolled darkened areas and neighborhoods on SUSV vehicles and in water craft in an effort to maintain order and a safe environment for our citizens. All power and utilities were off in the flood-zone and the water was still rising in areas. It was dark and it was certainly 'creepy' to be working in these conditions. Crime still took place and we were there to maintain control. Curfew violators were apprehended promptly to ensure safety on the streets.
Another example of our crime prevention efforts was a shooting that had taken place in the City of Lawrence. The Airwing was requested to fly/patrol over the darkened curfew area where the shooting had occurred to illuminate it with spot lights. State Police ground personnel along with the Lawrence Police officers tracked the bad-guys to a nearby house. With the Airwing overhead lighting up the scene, three suspects were taken into custody and three handguns were confiscated. The Airwing proved to be highly valuable throughout many aspects of this monumental effort. The Airwing provided reconnaissance/survey missions for Lawrence, Melrose, Lowell, Topsfield, Amesbury, and Methuen, among others. The purpose of these missions was to assess water levels, determine the damages caused by the flooding, and to confirm the status of several area dams. This was accomplished by providing video downlinks to local authorities for review. The information provided was crucial for ground personnel during search and rescue operations, identifying danger zones, and evaluating losses caused by flood waters. It can not be understated how appreciative our citizens were of our assistance. The State Police were welcomed with open arms and according to one citizen we were, "A sight for sore eyes and such a relief to see them!"
We are truly proud of the efforts and sacrifices made by members of our Department during the flood crisis of 2006. No task was too large and no risk was too great. If there was a public safety issue to be taken on, we were there and we were ready. The accolades we have received from other agencies and citizens alike in the aftermath of this event have strengthened our resolve to remain the finest public safety agency in Massachusetts. "Excellence in Service through Quality Policing"… indeed.
Sgt. D.R. Paine