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News / Clark County News

Clark County’s first responders keep their cool in face of icy conditions

Law enforcement, fire, ambulance crews navigate weather

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 19, 2024, 6:07am
6 Photos
A Clark County Fire District 6 truck responds to a call Thursday afternoon in Hazel Dell. Fire trucks were equipped with chains on tires to navigate icy neighborhood streets after freezing rain turned lingering snow slick.
A Clark County Fire District 6 truck responds to a call Thursday afternoon in Hazel Dell. Fire trucks were equipped with chains on tires to navigate icy neighborhood streets after freezing rain turned lingering snow slick. (Photos by Becca Robbins/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The chains on the tires of Clark County sheriff’s Deputy Slav Pavlenko’s patrol SUV clanked against the pavement Thursday afternoon as he drove down Highway 99.

While the main roads were clear, the chains came in handy as the deputy, along with other first responders, navigated Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek neighborhoods to respond to calls between bouts of freezing rain. Some vehicles remained abandoned on steep corners or on the side of icy streets.

Pavlenko said it seemed most people were taking the weather’s danger seriously and remained off the roads. Still, he said the majority of his calls this week were for road hazards and crashes, such as a five-car crash Wednesday morning on Salmon Creek Avenue near 119th Street. No one was injured in that crash, he said.

“People drive fine in the snow,” Pavlenko said. “It’s the ice that you have to be really careful about.”

While the sheriff’s office did not have data immediately available, Vancouver police officers responded to more than 80 calls for crashes between Saturday and Thursday afternoon, according to police spokeswoman Kim Kapp.

As freezing rain turned lingering snow to slick ice, Pavlenko said the sheriff’s office was on stationary patrol Wednesday. That meant they were supposed to stay put and only respond to top-priority calls. But by Thursday, Pavlenko was back to driving around the county, keeping an eye out for problems.

“People still need to see a presence,” Pavlenko said, noting he made a point to drive through shopping malls he knows to be frequented by shoplifters.

That’s not to say the deputy wasn’t doing anything while people were hunkered down. He took time Thursday to follow up on a case he’d investigated on New Year’s Day and contact someone who filed a fraud report.

Busy firefighters, paramedics

Bitterly cold temperatures over the weekend also posed an extra challenge for firefighters. Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue Fire Chief John Nohr said his agency had to ensure the pipes on fire engines didn’t freeze.

“Around 25 to 28 degrees, we leave a warm station, we go on a motor vehicle crash or a routine medical incident at somebody’s home, it’s usually not an issue. But when it’s down to 11 degrees, the pipes can freeze pretty fast, and then we’re not able to pump water,” Nohr said. “That’s just a bitter level of cold that we don’t get here very often.”

The fire engines also used chains to traverse the steep neighborhood streets of north Clark County. Nohr said the traction devices slowed crews down a bit as they were limited to traveling about 35 mph.

Firefighters and paramedics also wore spikes on their boots, Nohr said. Crews carried snow melt with them and put it down near rigs if they were going to be at a call for a while, he said.

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But that didn’t prevent one rig from getting stuck, he said, or one firefighter from taking a fall.

On one call, Nohr said, crews responded to help a man get down the hill his house sits atop to get to his dialysis treatment after missing his appointment days prior. The chief said the hill was so slick, crews had to use pick axes to chip away at the ice to get to the man and use a rope system to get him down.

While crews were on that call, the agency received another dispatch to a shop fire across the district’s jurisdiction.

“It just kind of becomes a disaster response,” Nohr said. “There’s just so much going on, they can’t really cover it all. We try to triage and take care of the big ones and do the best we can for the citizens.”

Nohr said the vast majority of his agency’s calls were for falls, which can be particularly dangerous for seniors.