First responders recall windstorm one year later - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

First responders recall windstorm one year later

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(from left to right) Firefighters Rich Peters, Lt. Chris Bichsel and Jerry Smith reflect on July 13, 2015, when a violent windstorm with 74 mile-per-hour straight line winds created a state of emergency in Quincy (from left to right) Firefighters Rich Peters, Lt. Chris Bichsel and Jerry Smith reflect on July 13, 2015, when a violent windstorm with 74 mile-per-hour straight line winds created a state of emergency in Quincy
QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) -

Wednesday marks one year since last July's windstorm that toppled trees, took down power lines and damaged homes and businesses. 

Before Lt. Chris Bichsel ever saw the destruction, he knew something was different about that storm.

"This is the first time where the chief has actually called a code black," Bichsel said.

"We had everyone get to the basement or the out stations and safe rooms," Quincy Fire Chief Joe Henning said. 

Riding out the storm before responding is a policy put in place after a 2011 windstorm. It keeps firefighters safe. But minutes later, calls poured in. Power lines were down. Trees were toppled. Cars were crushed and buildings damaged.

"It was just amazing," Bichsel said. 

"It became a challenge for us because we only had so many resources, so we got spread thin pretty quickly," Henning said. 

The biggest challenges, the chief says, were controlling the gas leak on Maine Street, between 14th and 16th streets, and getting from neighborhood to neighborhood through all the trees.

"We had to get chainsaws out to trucks so they could get to locations they were responding to," Henning said. 

"There's a couple places we had to use them, especially going around trees to get in and it was just easier to cut a path to get out," firefighter Jerry Smith said. 

To make it easier, QFD responded by dividing the city into four quadrants.

"It was more efficient to get those calls done where you're close, than trying to run 30 to 40 minutes across town," firefighter Matt Hinkamper said. 

That was one policy put to the test, along with newer equipment, like voltage detectors.

"When you approach a downed tree, you can't always tell there's a live wire inside that, so these detectors give our firefighters early warning that they're walking into a situation where there may be live electrical wires and that helps keep them safe as well," Henning said. 

After last July's windstorm, the chief is looking to buy more voltage detectors, and now, every marked vehicle QFD buys must have lights. The chief says that will allow QFD to put more of its fleet into service and use off-duty personnel to monitor live downed wires. They'll now be able to get more out of their resources.

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