Frigid weather presents challenges to town workers

Wilton town officials said recent temperature fluctuations and harsh weather conditions — with temperatures dipping into single digits and wind chills below zero — haven’t created anything the town can’t handle.

Lt. Don Wakeman of the Wilton Police Department said Tuesday most of the officers working the road during cold periods take advantage of the winter gear provided by the department, such as heavy winter coats, turtlenecks, hats and gloves.

“Officers who may be working extra duty traffic assignments typically will bundle up with multiple layers of clothing and are frequently checked on by the patrol sergeant and other officers,” he said.

Lt. Wakeman said police cars on the road are generally running the majority of the shift, so the department rarely encounters any major problems with patrol vehicles due to the cold.

However, he said, “there was one car earlier today [Jan. 7] that experienced a problem with the siren working, which may or may not have been due to the cold.”

No matter what the weather presents, said Lt. Wakeman, patrol officers are still frequently out of their vehicles enforcing traffic, investigating accidents and responding to countless service calls.

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Amatrudo said the Wilton Fire Department takes “a common-sense approach to the frigid temperatures and wind chills to assure the safety of personnel and those we serve, as well as ensuring that all of our equipment is ready for use.”

Dressing in layers, requesting mutual aid earlier, requesting extra units for large incidents and limiting exposure time to wind and cold for themselves and the people they serve are some of the precautionary steps the department takes, Deputy Chief Amatrudo said.

“We make sure that the equipment we use for dealing with water condition calls — generally from frozen pipes — is well maintained and ready for use,” he said.

The fire department’s Jan. 3 press release about preventing and dealing with frozen pipes listed seven preventative steps to keep pipes from freezing. (Those tips are presented on page 4A.)

“We also utilize those prevention practices to limit the possibility of frozen pipes at our fire stations,” the deputy chief said.

Mary Channing, transportation coordinator for the Wilton school district, said all school districts have been challenged by the recent weather conditions.

Wilton’s bus fleet is owned and operated by Student Transportation of America (STA).

Ms. Channing said the buses are equipped with heaters that preheat the coolant in the engine every morning at a programmed time, which eliminates start concerns in typical winter weather.

“Unfortunately, sustained temperatures below 10 degrees impact the effectiveness of the heaters,” said Ms. Channing.

“STA’s local management team developed and successfully implemented a plan which resulted in 100% engine startup each morning and on-time service for students and their families.”

Environmental Affairs Director Pat Sesto said she doesn’t expect the cold to have a major impact on Wilton’s environment.

“I don’t think we’re going to get a depth of frost we usually don’t see, because the freezes are pretty short-lived,” said Ms. Sesto. “You see the Midwest where there’s like a week of freeze, but I don’t think the short-lived is going to be that big of a deal.”

Ms. Sesto said high winds pull moisture out of plants, causing them to dry up, but some leaves will roll up on themselves as a way of reducing their moisture loss.

Similar to animals that hunker down until conditions improve, Ms. Sesto said, plants have their own insulation strategies.

“The insect population, of course, can be more vulnerable,” said Ms. Sesto. “Deep freeze does impact the ticks, but depending on if this freeze gets into the leaf litter deep enough or long enough to impact them — that is the question.”

Ms. Sesto said although it would be nice if “one really cold day could be enough to impact the tick population,” no one will really know until spring.

“Cold does impact the overwintering of insects — ticks included — and we can hope for good things out of that,” she said.