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Sandy-Induced Fuel Shortage Posed Biggest Problem for Borough

Fair Lawn will review its contingency plans for fuel backup after the fragility of its current setup was exposed during Superstorm Sandy.

Superstorm Sandy played out just as borough manager Tom Metzler told his staff it would.

He anticipated the devastation to the Jersey Shore, the flooding of the New York City subway system and the prolonged power outages across the region.

“Prepare to be without power for two weeks,” he told his staff a couple days before the storm came to shore.

Metzler said he knew exactly what to expect because he’d been studying Sandy, or a storm just like her, for over two decades.

“In 1990 when I entered emergency management, the very first conference I attended they said this was the worst East Coast scenario,” Metzler said. “A Category 1 hurricane coming to shore between Cape May and Atlantic City with a 20 mile-an-hour forward motion.”

He laid it out for his staff to plan accordingly and was extremely pleased with their response.

“I don’t think there’s a whole heck of a lot we could have done differently,” Metzler opined earlier this month.

There was, however, one aspect of the borough’s emergency preparedness model that Sandy revealed could use some tinkering.

“The biggest issue that we had to overcome through the bulk of this was fuel for our own trucks,” said Metzler, who worked out arrangements with local gas station owners to allow borough employees and emergency vehicles to jump the exceedingly long gas lines. “We were critical low on two separate occasions.”

Metzler said he wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of fuel required to power borough vehicles, fire trucks, pump stations and generators around the clock in the two weeks following the emergency accounted for a 60 percent uptick in the borough’s overall fuel consumption.

While Fair Lawn had made arrangements with backup fuel vendors prior to the storm, those vendors were in the same boat as everyone else.

“They didn’t have power either,” Metzler said. “They couldn’t get the fuel out of the ground.”

At one point, the borough’s fuel supply dwindled to just 200 gallons of regular fuel and 690 gallons of diesel, Metzler said.

To get an understanding just how low that is, consider it takes 50-to-75 gallons of diesel to fill a single DPW truck and about 400 gallons of diesel every three days to fuel the emergency generator that powered the municipal building and the police department for more than a week.

Fortunately, the borough was able to procure fuel shipments from the National Guard and the county, and pump out 500 gallons of diesel trapped underneath a commercial gas station in Wyckoff.

“That’s the way emergency management works,” Metzler said. “When you can’t resolve the problem on your own, you go to the next level. If they can’t resolve it, then they go to the state.”

In the future, Metzler – who called the fuel shortage a “tremendous issue” -- said the borough would have to create additional fuel contingencies.

“If we know that fuel is going to be a problem, we need to make sure that we have an alternate plan on how we’re going to address refueling our vehicles,” he said.

In addition to fuel contingencies, Metzler said the borough may also need to rethink the role of its Community Emergency Response Team, which is composed of trained residents who are counted on to volunteer during emergency situations.

"There’s a CERT team of 40 people that we have come to depend on and we probably got a workforce of about 10 of them out of that 40, and that’s unacceptable," he said. "It’s an area we’ve got to address. We either have to explain to them the importance of being available during a disaster or we’re going to have to pull from another source." 

Metzler said the low turnout by CERT members -- many declined to volunteer after suffering damage to their own homes -- takes nothing away from those members who did help, and in some cases worked as many or more hours than paid borough personnel.

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Josh Sully November 28, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Why the heck were borough employees allowed to cut the fuel lines? I guess the rumors of the abuse of the system to fuel those private vehicles were sponsored from the top. Another black eye for Manager Metzler. A shame, he did such a good job otherwise.
Jack Donohue November 28, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Actually, Josh... the residents of Fair Lawn have come to expect borough employees to always be at the ready to jump into action, clearing roads, picking up recycling, cutting trees, repairing main breaks, responding to fire calls (indeed, fire calls are handled by a large group of UNPAID "Borough employees) being at borough hall to field thousands of phone calls"etc... and unable to leap tall buildings, they have to drive to work. Manager Metzlers eyes weren't black. They were- if anything- weary from long hours at the helm of a extremely busy emergency action... one he handled extremely well in this mans opinion. Rumors of abuse? I wouldn't put too much emphasis in the rumor mill if I were you
Warren G November 28, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Borough employees needed to get to work and that is why they were able to cut the lines. First responders that stood by in the firehouses for days and responded to hundreds of calls were able to cut the lines.
Mei Won Sum November 28, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Josh, If your house was burning, and no FD personnel could get to you, you'd feel differently.
(0) November 28, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Josh thats like being angry that a hospital or senior home got thier power back before a residential area. obviously gas and power are more important to certain people (people who handle the emergencies) than others. if you were allowed to cut the lines for gas were you gonig to put out any fires or save any lives? i dont agree with everything metzler does (pay raise while other employees are cutting hours) but give credit where it is due- metzler did a fantastic job. your comment is just assanine
BellairBerdan November 29, 2012 at 02:27 AM
I believe the emergency responders were able to get to the front of the gas lines not only in Fair lawn but throughout the affected areas in NJ and NY. Personally I'd rather see them get to work and clear roads of trees and debris than see people gas up to go to the malls on Sunday to "restart their lives" by going to Victoria's Secret and Jared's
Jenne November 29, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Josh, it doesn't sound like it was 'private vehicles' jumping the gas lines, but the borough's trucks. I had to wait long times in gas lines but I wouldn't have been upset if a Shade Tree truck, an ambulance, a firetruck had to get gas first!
Me November 29, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Really? I would have thought the "no power for several days because of downed trees" was the biggest problem in town.
Michael Rosenberg November 29, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Abuse, I think not. Borough employees did a great job throughout this storm and without much time to sleep. Manager Metzler's experience helped this town weather the storm. Yes firefighters and emergency personnel as well as borough employees working the storm were able to get gas. That makes sense to me. Fuel was needed to run sewage generators, water treatment plants, etc. Kudos to the borough from Mr. Metzler on down for a job well done under difficult conditions. We were so much better off than the towns all around us thanks to the borough employees.
Michael Rosenberg November 29, 2012 at 11:37 PM
No, sewage treatment plants, water plants and pumps run by fuel powered generators and making sure this was working was the biggest issue in town.

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