It was the morning of Day Six ATSI (after Tropical Storm Irene), and residents on Winnepoge Drive and environs were growing concerned about their .
This particular town resident has called Fairfield home for more than 38 years, and never – in my recollection – had we been without electricity for longer than four days. So, yes, label me concerned with a dash of annoyance.
But hope was on the horizon. I looked out my living room window and saw two people wearing hard hats and yellow vests. Their vehicle bore the United Illuminating imprint. Saved, at last.
I approached the pair, a man and a woman. They extended their hands and introduced themselves. They were friendly and solicitous, and offered their regrets for our powerlessness. But they were in no position to help.
These UI employees were members of the utility’s finance department, and they had been dispatched as “spotters” – to warn pedestrians and motorists of downed wires, and to provide information and comfort to the approximately 50 homes in the Lake Hills area that had been without power since early Sunday morning. Alas, they were noncommittal about when our power would be restored.
On the previous afternoon, another UI person had ventured a guess. He thought that a crew would be on our street that night. Unfortunately, this gentleman was wrong.
Later on Day Six, still another UI employee offered mild encouragement. “This isn’t a forecast or a promise, but a guess – with a lower-case ‘g’ – that your power will be back tomorrow,” he said.
Well, a UI crew was at work on our street late Friday night, but when we awoke on Day Seven, our home remained without power. So, lower-case “g” was incorrect as well.
Now, a confession. Unlike most of our neighbors, Patti and I had been away, on holiday in Oregon, when Irene began to batter Connecticut. So we missed the winds, the rains and the downed limb that fell into our neighbor’s property, as well as the first four days sans electricity.
We were in touch via cellphone and e-mail, and knew that one daughter had emptied our refrigerator and freezer of the rotting food. We were aware than one son-in-law had placed our grill and patio furniture out of harm’s way prior to the hurricane, and that his spouse had left us some staples for our arrival home Wednesday night.
The lede story in Thursday morning’s Connecticut Post was disturbing. UI and its northern competitor, Connecticut Light & Power, had a practice of leaving positions open whenever an employee retired or left the company under other circumstances, the story said. The unions had warned management that each utility would be understaffed when an emergency occurred, and the restoration of power would be accomplished at a slower-than-it-should-have-been pace.
Could that be the case in Fairfield, Ridgefield, Milford, East Haven and other hard-hit communities in the Nutmeg State?
I presented that question to one of the UI personnel on our street. He hedged his answer at first, but then admitted the utility was below staffing levels.
Sorry to hear that, sir.
On the afternoon of Day Seven, I drove up Black Rock Turnpike to the ShopRite parking lot, where town employees had been dispensing bottled water and bags of ice to residents who were still awaiting the restoration of power. Their vehicles were nowhere to be seen. In their place was a Fairfield Police wagon, with a blinking sign attached to its rear. “In Fairfield, 2,754 Residents Without Power,” it blinked. “27 Crews Working.”
Okay. A sign of progress, I suppose. But what if UI had filled those empty positions through the years. With more linemen on duty, would we and thousands of other UI customers been forced to endure a week – and maybe longer – to have our power restored?
I await an authoritative answer to my question.