Monday, May 30, 2011

Memory Flood on Memorial Day

While the majority of us are called upon on Memorial Day to reflect on those in our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation and our freedom, events in the distant past are drawing me to reflect on loss in a different context as remembrance becomes the focus of this day.

Little Pine Creek Flood - May 30, 1986

Twenty-five years ago today, a frenetic Friday afternoon rush hour in the North Hills of Pittsburgh was complicated by the arrival of several thunderstorms. One of these slow-moving storms dumped an estimated 8 inches of rain over a one hour period in the area of Little Pine Creek, a normally small stream that winds along Saxonburg Boulevard through Indiana Township until it reaches Pa. Route 8 in Shaler Township, and turns south toward Etna.

This deluge resulted in one of the worst flash floods in local history. Eight people lost their lives when Little Pine Creek tore through the area, destroying homes, stacking cars at the Mae West Bend on Rt. 8 like a child's Hot Wheels collection, and putting 6 feet of water through the bulk of Etna proper. Medical helicopters helped to rescue and evacuate the injured, and the remaining emergency resources of the area became quickly overwhelmed.

This was the first major incident that I was directly involved in as a dispatcher in public safety. The agency I volunteered with was selected by Allegheny County's EMS Coordinator to assist in the coordination of multiple EMS agencies from across the county and region in responding to and providing EMS coverage for the area for the weekend that followed.

I was at the radio for the bulk of the next two days. When I got to actually see the devastation on Sunday afternoon, the memories I hold onto are varied and really kind of weird - the dried mud covering the intersection of Route 8 and Saxonburg; the parishoners of St. Mary's Church on Middle Road who spent the weekend serving spaghetti to responders and others affected; the command post at the Middle Road VFD, and the vehicle parked there with (gasp) a cellular phone mounted inside.

Several of the responders involved received recognition from the County for their efforts, myself included. The attaboy was nice, the experience valuable, the career capital worthwhile. In retrospect, I think more now about those who lost loved ones that fateful day, and the cumulative effect upon those responders and support personnel who have weathered this and many more smaller tragedies over their careers. It makes my contributions that weekend, however important in the larger scale of this particular event, seem small in the collective microscope of history.

Hope your Memorial Day was a pleasant one. Enjoy the week ahead.

No comments: