Mansfield weathers Irene: Power restored quickly here

mansfield trees
Three trees fell on a house on West Street

By Susan Parkou Weinstein
Wicked Local Mansfield
Sep 01, 2011
Mansfield — Mansfield officials credit good planning and local control for the relatively quick return of power to town in the aftermath of Irene’s fury.

Most Mansfield electric customers were back on line within 24 hours of Sunday’s tropical storm that uprooted old trees and knocked down utility lines all over town.

Unlike homes and businesses in Easton, Norton and Foxboro, however, local customers did not have to wait for National Grid to respond with crews or listen to a recording on the telephone.

 “Somebody really does answer the phone here,” Gary Babin, director of the Mansfield Municipal Electrical Department, said.

An estimated 4,000 of the 9,500 customers serviced by the Mansfield electrical plant lost power during the height of the storm. The first outage came on Sunday morning when a tree took out a main circuit on Otis Street and required cutting power to two other lines.

The second outage occurred at approximately 4 p.m. when a tree took down a line on West Street.

By Sunday evening and Monday morning the power was back up in most areas, except for a few isolated areas. Meanwhile, much of Easton waited three days for power to return and areas of communities such as Foxboro are still in the dark.

Babin said Mansfield has operated its own lighting plant since 1903 and local crews know the system. They know when, where and why problems occur and are able to fix them quicker.

Town Manager William Ross said the town also controls how many crews to bring in during an emergency.

“There are significant advantages to having your own utilities,” Ross said.

The fire department responded to a handful of minor storm-related injury calls and stood by live downed wires until repair crews arrived. They also responded to several calls from residents needing generators to run medical equipment such as oxygen tanks.

An emergency shelter was set up at the Jordan/Jackson school but was not used.

A few days before Hurricane Irene was supposed to arrive, the town set up an emergency response center that included electrical, fire police water and highway department employees, Fire Chief Neal Boldrighini said.

But the town has been prepared to handle a major natural disaster for years, he said.

A decade ago, Mansfield established a geographic information that allows emergency responders, at the touch of the keyboard, to know the exact location of power lines, fire hydrants, propane tanks, gas and oil lines, sewer and storm drains, flood plains, and hazardous materials at every residential and commercial property.

The GIS also provides information where sick, handicapped and elderly people are living and the type of home at every address.

“We’ve been preparing every day for this kind of event,” he said.

The cost to maintain the system “has paid off in dividends,” he added.

Ross advises residents that the town will not pick up fallen trees and limbs from private property.

But the Mansfield Green will be open extra hours this week for residents. No sticker permit will be required.

Residents will be asked to show proof of residency. Seniors may call the Mansfield Council on Aging for help with clearing debris.