On Dec. 23, our region was hit with an ice storm unlike any we have seen since January 1998, when ice more than two inches thick covered tree branches and power lines throughout the entire state and some folks went nearly a month without power. While this storm was not nearly as bad as the storm of ’98, the inch of ice that fell around our homes and still encrusts our trees caused most of homes and businesses in Kennebec County to lose their power and brought forth the urgent need for town services and mutual aid.

As the street lights went out, our public resources came alive with town managers answering telephones for calls indicating roads that needed to be cleared of power lines and tree branches, fire chiefs and volunteers responding to 911 calls for folks in need of help from car accidents and responses to small fires from transformer explosions, and crews ready to plow out those in need of emergency medical service.

These people put in many extra hours that Monday, and those days to follow, and each deserves our thanks for the work that was accomplished. On a day-to-day basis, we often do not recognize the work that goes on in our town halls to prepare for such an event, and, although there is seemingly always more to do at the town level, we should rest assured that emergency help will always be available when we truly need it.

One of the major resources available to our communities during this late December week was found in the mutual aid agreements many of our towns have with each other to provide emergency service in the event of a fire or severe accident that requires more service than the town itself can muster. In Manchester, our fire department responded to multiple calls outside of town that were brought about by such circumstances, and the town also received emergency services from other surrounding towns that responded when it was clear that a citizen needed help beyond what Manchester could provide at the time.

This mutual aid served as a nearly seamless response to our needs when they were at their greatest, and our communities are stronger for this exisiting collaboration between our towns, however big or small.

Along with mutual aid, our communities, both town to town and state to state, came together like at no other time in the past few decades. The area where I live was re-energized by a crew from Pennsylvania that included folks from as far away as Georgia. These men and women had followed the storm to upstate New York and, when it did not climax there, continued to follow the falling ice to Maine and the Kennebec region. Members of the crew said they had not seen a region hit this hard by the weather in some time and were concerned that the power would be out for a long time, given the storm and another front quickly approaching. They were genuinely concerned, yet their presence alone, and that of hundreds of other crews from all over New England and New York, signified that our community would get through the worst.

In addition to this traveling band, towns all over the region opened their fire stations and other community centers to our neighbors who had lost power, heat and running water so as to allow them to be safe from the storm. This opening of facilities served as a welcome respite from those facing the elements; facilities that we are lucky to have given the farsighted support of our town’s legislative bodies and efforts of emergency professionals and volunteers alike.

One week after the storm, one location in Manchester, nine in Winthrop and many in West Gardiner, Belgrade and Litchfield were still without power, but the total percentage was less than 1 percent of the county that at one time was nearly entirely off the grid. The effort to make this happen and to keep our towns as safe as possible was because of the efforts of many talented and dedicated individuals. Although they do not ask for any credit, we should not forget them between now and the next ice storm we face.

Jeremy Pare is a selectmen for the town of Manchester. Talk of the Town is an occasional series that gives officials from our local communities an opportunity to speak out about issues that are important to them and the residents of central Maine. To submit a column of no more than 750 words, email letters@centralmaine.com.

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