Sunday, February 16, 2003

Weather going from bad to worse

Icy roads shut down much of Tristate

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Many roads are iced over and treacherous and it's going to get worse: The Tristate could see 4-6 inches of snow today - maybe up to 10 inches in northern parts of Butler and Warren counties.

Forecast, conditions
Cancellations & closings
Freezing rain will continue this morning and turn to snow this afternoon, forecasters say.

Many church services across the Tristate are canceled this morning because of the road conditions.

Roads turned treacherous Saturday night as freezing rain arrived at sundown and continued through the night.

The Interstate 75 cut in the hill was closed by ice, River Road was closed in both directions and emergency teams were being wait-listed by dispatchers for ambulances. The problem: ice on the roads, and more falling from the sky.

"It was pretty bad in the morning, then nothing came through for a while," said Chris Eveslage, 23, supervisor at ARTIMIS, the Advanced Regional Traffic Interactive Management and Information System. "And then in the evening, it came back in full force."

Police and emergency workers responded to scores of accidents from throughout the day. ARTIMIS said road conditions were worst on Interstate 71 northbound and in Northern Kentucky.

The Ohio River was rising as people were inside U.S. Bank Arena for a circus performance. Police had to save cars parked at the Public Landing from immersion. But that was difficult on an icy incline.

Police closed Interstate 71/75 southbound at Dixie Highway at about 6:45 p.m. Saturday because of an accident - and sheer ice. And in Whitewater Township, all available emergency personnel were called in for evening duty.

Because police, firefighters and emergency workers have seen it all, the psychology of driving on ice is one thing they know about.

"What happens is people feel comfortable, they see someone pass them, and they think that's its safe for them to travel at that speed," said Sgt. Mike Asbrock, 46.

Even officers do that on occasion.

"Sometimes you forget and you get complacent," he said. "You try to hurry, and the next thing you know, you're in a ditch - just like everyone else."

Many of the techniques for being a safe emergency vehicle driver are straight out of a driver's ed manual: Stay below the speed limit. Pump the brakes slowly. Don't accelerate on icy roads.

However, some of these workers are behind the wheel of a vehicle that weighs significantly more than the average - 15 tons or so. In some cases, that's a bonus; in others, a hindrance.

"It's a little scary," said Tim Turner, a firefighter with the Middletown Fire Department, who drives a 30,000-pound engine. "All the weight makes it easier to drive on certain roads - but it definitely takes a lot longer to stop something that heavy."

Trucks in the Cincinnati Fire Department have Onspot Automatic Tire chains, which have the traction of conventional snow chains at the flip of a switch in the cab.

"The trucks do better than a traditional car, because they do weigh more," said Greg Hissett, 34, a fire apparatus operator for Engine 24 in Price Hill. "But they do more damage if you get into a wreck."

Even the vehicles designed to clear the roads - the salt trucks, which weigh about 26,000 pounds - aren't immune to slick streets.

"They do slip, especially in freezing rain," said Elois Baskin of Hyde Park, a public service operations supervisor for Cincinnati Public Works. "It scares our drivers when they slide, but that's their job."

For these safety forces, there's a delicate balance between being cautious in poor conditions and responding to an emergency as quickly as possible.

"We'd rather get there a little late then not get there at all," Turner said.

"It's better to be slow and not wreck," Hissett said. "You want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

The key, Hissett said, is preparation. Engine 24 has the fastest station prep time out of the city's 26 firehouses - meaning that once a call has been made, these firefighters are the quickest getting out the door.

"That's where you're saving time, not in driving to the fire," he said. "It's like that for anyone. If you leave your house early enough, you don't have to drive like a crazy person."

In many cases, the most dangerous part of responding to emergencies isn't driving there - it's the other drivers.

"I worry more about getting hit when I'm outside of the truck than I do when I'm actually driving," said Tug Brock, 26, the owner of Autoworks Towing in Silverton. "The drivers don't pay attention. They don't look beyond their own car."

Hissett echoed that.

"I don't trust other drivers," he said.

More bad driving weather is on the way. Today 1 to 3 inches of snowfall is likely, with a high of 24. Monday should bring flurries in the morning and cloudy conditions the rest of the day.


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