Frozen city spells slow weekend for Alabaster first responders

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A deep-frozen city spelled a quiet weekend for Alabaster emergency responders Jan. 9-10, as Shelby County was blanketed with a layer of ice and snow.

Beginning at about 3 p.m. Jan. 9, Alabaster was covered by freezing rain, some snow and patches of thick ice on nearly every road in the city.

After temperatures in the teens early Jan. 10, Alabaster residents woke up to nearly impassable roads, especially on interstate overpasses and bridges.

Shortly after the ice began to form on Jan. 9, many law enforcement agencies and municipalities, including Alabaster, began urging motorists to stay off the roads.

“After the DOT urged motorists to stay off the roads on Sunday, we put out a statement asking everyone to stay off the roads unless it was extremely necessary,” said Alabaster Mayor David Frings. “We couldn’t just close all of our roads, because legally when you do that you have to barricade them all. We don’t have enough barricades to close all of them.”

The city closed a portion of First Avenue West shortly before 8 p.m. on Jan. 9 after a hill on the road became impassable.

“I think there was one wreck over on First Avenue on Sunday, but it was more of an issue of the guy getting stuck,” said Alabaster Police Deputy Chief Rigney. “But that was about the extent of it.

“That was the only road we actually had to close,” Frings said. “We just had cars sliding off that hill.”

The Alabaster Public Works Department sanded dozens of icy roads and problem areas across the city, but residents heeding the police department’s warning likely kept traffic incidents to a minimum, Frings said.

“The businesses and schools were closed, and I think that prevented a lot of accidents from happening,” Frings said. “Pretty much, people just got in their houses and stayed there.”

The icy roads also affected the police department’s ability to run its regular patrol routes, which forced the department to station officers at strategic locations across the city and respond to calls on a case-by-case basis.

“Instead of patrolling the city, the officers were assigned to different areas of the city,” Frings said. “We tried to keep their road travel to a minimum, because it’s just as unsafe for them to drive as it is for anyone else.”

Because many expected widespread power outages because of the ice accumulation on power lines and trees, agencies like the Red Cross set up warming stations throughout the city.

The Alabaster Fire Department also parked its large fire engines, and responded to calls with four-wheel-drive pickup trucks.

“We tried to have a contingency plan for everything we could,” Frings said. “And everything worked out very well for us.

“I just wish we would have had a little more snow so the kids could get out and play in it,” he added.