City services, schools ready for cold

December 15, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

It’s cold, but it’s expected to get a lot colder.

Whether it’s snow, ice, a deep freeze, or some combination of them all, Issaquah’s police, fire and schools have been preparing for the cold, as should you.

The clear, arctic air has sent temperatures into the teens and they may persist until Christmas. It is likely to become the longest frigid spell since December 1990, when a similar event caused thousands of frozen pipes, cold houses and flooding when the burst pipes thawed. “Our snow crews are keeping a close eye on the weather,” said Bret Heath, director of the Public Works Operations Department. “We are adjusting for what we get.”

City trucks clear snow and dump sand on roadways along predetermined routes. Maps are posted on the city’s Web site.

Together with Public Works and Eastside Fire & Rescue, the Police Department has developed contingency plans for snow and cold. Chief Paul Ayers said the plan was reviewed last week; measures taken so far include providing tire chains for vehicles and preparing for road closures and stalled or stuck vehicles.

“Our priority is still our calls for service,” Ayers said. He does not expect to have to call in additional officers this week, but they can be tapped if necessary.

“If we do, we would also bring in additional communications specialists and supervisors,” Ayers said. “It just depends on what we get. I hope we don’t have to kick it into place and start using it.”

School delays, closings

Issaquah schools were delayed about two hours Dec. 15, due to ice on roadways left by the weekend’s snow.

School transportation officials began driving roads in each of the districts major areas — the plateau, the corridor and the south end — at about 3:30 a.m.

Bus drivers test the major roads, and roads that have significant elevation gains, to determine the feasibility of transporting children to and from school safely, said Sara Niegowski, director of district communications.

Once drivers report back on road conditions, district officials try to have a decision made about delays or closures as early as 5:30 a.m. But that isn’t always possible.

Skyline High School was the only school in the district to cancel classes Dec. 15.

The power at the school had gone out during the weekend, which in turn, shut off the heat, Niegowski said. Unfortunately, district employees were unable to get the building’s heat working properly prior to the start of school, even with a two-hour delay. Students who were en route to class were sent home.

The district has its schools’ heating systems running on a schedule to optimize cost and energy savings. When the system shut down due to the power outage, the heat remained off until district employees could reboot the system, Niegowski said.

The heat also turned off at Issaquah Middle School and Sunset and Discovery elementary schools. However, employees were able to restart the heating system in time for classes, with the delayed start.

To avoid a heating malfunction at the schools again, district officials are temporarily leaving the heat on at all schools, even when students aren’t in the buildings.

As the weather continues to stay cold, school employees are also checking their indoor and outdoor plumbing systems to ensure the pipes are well insulated to reduce the risk of pipes bursting.

When schools are delayed, it’s important to consult your child’s individual school for information about before and after-school programs. However, when schools are closed, all programs are canceled.

It is also important to remember your child’s safety during extreme weather. In some instances, it may not be possible to get your student to their snow route bus stop or may not be safe for them to journey out of the home.

“A family’s safety always comes above whatever event or school situation,” Niegowski said. “We try to use practical wisdom.”

In those cases, district officials depend on parents to make those calls. As long as the student comes to school with a note from the parent, or the parent has called the school about the absence, it can be excused.

Elementary school students’ absences aren’t readily tracked, but parents should know secondary middle and high school students are only allowed 10 excused absences during the year, Niegowski said.

However, as long as the parents and school officials can track those absences, exceptions can be made for students who need more.

Fire kills family dog

Eastside Fire & Rescue workers responded to a residential house fire, in the 3000 block of  211th Avenue Northeast in the Sahalee neighborhood, at about 11:55 p.m. Dec. 14, said Josie Williams, public information officer for the department.

Firefighters battled the blaze, in the home’s living room, until about 3:30 a.m. Dec. 15. They were able to keep it from spreading to other parts of the house, although there was significant damage, Williams said.

The family called 911 and three people living at the home were able to get out, as was one of the families two dogs. The other dog wasn’t able to get out.

Despite the cold weather, firefighters were able to battle the blaze and all their equipment functioned well, Williams said.

“The only problem we ran into was when we would spray the water it would freeze very, very quickly, making it difficult to walk around,” Williams said.

The family’s fire detectors didn’t go off, Williams said. The daughter heard noises coming from the living room and found the fire.

In the area’s last big windstorm, which brought snow, ice and power outages in December 2006, people without power began switching to alternative heat sources — electric, gas and kerosene heaters and even barbecue grills, were used by some people to keep warm. But those can be deadly

“While the fire department doesn’t condone those types of heaters, it is so important to have a carbon monoxide detector on every level and smoke detectors in the bedrooms, for those early warnings,” Williams said. “They also need to be in working order.”

The best thing you can do is to stay indoors with plenty of blankets and monitor alternative heat sources by ensuring there is plenty of ventilation.

If you have a generator, it is important to keep it away from the home or in a well-ventilated area where the carbon monoxide from the gas emissions can escape.

Even if it is outside your front door, a crack for the power cord to run through can lead to emissions into the home, Williams said.

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com. Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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