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Colorado Springs reviews storm response

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Feb 22 2013 02:43:51 AM CST

Colorado Springs gives itself a B+ for its response to Wednesday's snow removal effort.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

A supervisor with the Colorado Springs Street Division says his crews did a good job clearing away snow from Wednesday's storm, despite some public criticism that crews should have done better.

Amaro Montemayor, the division's operations manager, said he would give crews a grade of B+ while allowing that room for improvement exists.

"Given the intensity of the storm and available resources, I'm proud of what they did," he said.

Montemayor said between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m Wednesday, 4.5 inches of snow fell, making it impossible for crews to keep up with plowing efforts.  Complicating matters, he said, was a heavy amount of traffic which resulted in backups, disabled vehicles and stranded drivers.

"Too many vehicles were driving too fast or following too closely," said Montemayor.  "Even some of our trucks were getting stuck.  We had our own plow drivers coming to the rescue."

Montemayor said the division is trying out different methods of preparing major routes for a storm, to prevent problems like those at both ends of Austin Bluffs Parkway.  The hill on the west end was closed because of slick conditions, and more than 70 vehicles became stuck on the east end.

"We're working on some liquids, a liquid application over on the Milton Proby Parkway," said Montemayor.  "That's something we can do to pre-treat some of those areas and it'll buy us some time.  But eventually, we still have to go and reapply material."

Typically, street crews use anti-skid, a salt-sand mixture; ice slicer, a granular melting agent; and a liquid de-icer on streets and roads during storms.

Mayor Steve Bach supported street crews.

"Everything I hear is positive," he said.  "I hope my fellow citizens feel that way.  We sure tried hard."

The police and fire departments also praised the work of street crews, even though slick roads made it harder for officers and firefighters to respond to calls for help.

"We have to go slow," said Russ Renck, a fire department battalion chief.  "We don't want to get stuck on the way to helping someone.  That doesn't do any good."

"As the storm progressed, we started making contingency plans to get chains put on at three different locations, so that we could get our officers up to speed as quickly as possible without impacting our response times dramatically," said police Lt. Tom Harris.

Harris and Renck said during the storm, 80 percent of their on-duty personnel responded to weather-related calls.  Officers and firefighters said they pushed vehicles and provided stranded drivers with temporary shelter.

Authorities also reported trouble with drivers who ignored barricades placed at some closed streets.  Renck said there weren't enough officers to man each barricade.

"We understand that it can be confusing for folks when they just see a firefighter out there in bunker gear with a safety vest on," said Renck.  "They may not understand that firefighters have the same authority to control an emergency scene as a police officer does."

Authorities said they handled the storm without calling in off-duty personnel on overtime.  City spokeswoman Cindy Aubrey said the storm fell below the threshold of having the city's Office of Emergency Management oversee the storm response.

Montemayor, Harris and Renck agree that the best way to improve a storm response is to acquire more manpower and resources -- something that city presently can't afford to do.

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