Home Fire News Massive snow and abandoned vehicles make EMS and fire responses impossible in...

Massive snow and abandoned vehicles make EMS and fire responses impossible in Buffalo


Patrick Lakamp

The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Erie County has hired private contractors to bring in 40 high-lifts and 20 large trucks to help dig out the Southtowns.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officers wrote 300-plus tickets through Friday evening to drivers who violated travel bans during a lake-effect snowstorm that dropped 5 feet of snow in a day in some places.

“We are getting through it,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

But county officials expressed frustration with drivers who complicated snow-clearing efforts by being on roads with no legitimate reason and then getting stuck and even abandoning their cars.

That includes those driving trucks who, banned from the Thruway from Rochester to the Pennsylvania border, headed for other roads to try to get into or out of the area.

“We probably could have been a little bit more successful in our efforts had it not been for a lot of tractor-trailers and other vehicles that turned roads into parking lots,” said Erie County Public Works Commissioner William Geary.

“One of the problems that we’re seeing is that commercial vehicles, tractor-trailers, have been getting off the Thruway but then trying to get into our region by going up Route 5, Route 20, other routes and getting stuck,” Poloncarz said.

Plow drivers and first responders encountered “terrible problems” on Routes 5 and 20 with jackknifed trucks. A vehicle was even struck by a train, but there were no injuries because the train was moving so slow, Poloncarz said.

West Seneca joined 15 other towns, cities and villages by declaring a state of emergency on Friday.

Travel bans in South Buffalo, Lackawanna and many of the Southtowns that were in effect most of Friday remain in place.

“Travel ban means no travel,” Poloncarz said at the 9 p.m. snowstorm briefing.

Poloncarz said employers cannot force their employees to violate a travel ban by driving to work unless the employees are essential emergency personnel.

“We’ve heard from a number of individuals who got stuck on the roads today that they were told they had to come into work even though it meant driving through treacherous conditions,” he said.

Abandoned cars will be ticketed and towed at the owner’s expense, he said.

“Do not be the reason an ambulance cannot get to the hospital,” he said. “There are many vehicles not only getting stuck but are just being abandoned by their owners — trucks, regular automobiles on the side of the road or in the middle of the road — and as we’re coming along to try to clean these roads we have to get in there, take a tow truck and tow them out.”

“The vast majority of the public has stayed home and listened to the travel ban, and I want to thank the members of the public for doing that,” Poloncarz said.

The towed cars are being taken to the McKinley Mall, where an area has been plowed.

Truck drivers are also being told to park their tractor-trailers at the lot.

Geary said municipal, county and state plow crews are working together and “they’ve done everything they can to keep roads open.”

But for now, those open roads in the hard-hit Southtowns are for emergency first responders, like ambulances that need to reach Mercy Hospital, Poloncarz said.

Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Daniel J. Neaverth Jr. said volunteer fire companies and utility crews were delayed by cars that clogged roads.

Restoring electrical power to one neighborhood was delayed by almost three hours, he said, because “a simple little switch flip couldn’t get done because they couldn’t get access.”

Poloncarz asked for patience during the Southtowns dig-out.

“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to open up very neighborhood in 24 hours. There are places that … still probably have some time before the bucket trucks come and clear out their streets.”


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