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Clippings: 911 house number signs save lives

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Posted on March 19, 2015 |
By Peter Conlon



Conlon, Peter_5196.jpg

A few days ago, the Middlebury ambulance and Cornwall First Response were called to a home on Route 30 for a man described by the dispatcher as “unresponsive.”

As a volunteer firefighter, I put on my shoes and coat and headed out to see if I could help. Thanks to 911 numbering of residences, I knew about where the house was, and assumed I could pin it down once in the area. I started rehearsing in my head the CPR training we receive every other year. Thirty compressions, two breaths.

We debate frequently at the fire department how to get more people to install the green-and-white 911 house number signs. Cornwall is filled with long driveways, some of which split and go to different houses. Few have reflective signs at the intersection with the main road. Not being able to find a house right away is common.

When I crested the hill on Route 30 that morning, that problem could not have been more real. There, parked on either side of the road and in two different driveways (neither of which was the home of the patient) were two ambulances from Middlebury, the Cornwall medical vehicle and several first responders in the their own cars. None was at the right place. Some responders were ready to start knocking on doors.

Finally, the radio crackled, and a firefighter who arrived and knew where to go directed everyone to a long driveway that led to the house. No one had seen the dark and faded numbers on a wood pole. Snow, growth and cars going by obscured the view.

This was the second time in the past few months I personally witnessed responders going to the wrong long, mostly unmarked driveway for an unresponsive patient.

Folks, if your house is on fire, the fire department will find it, reflective sign or not. But fires are rare. Medicals calls, carbon monoxide leaks and other emergencies that don’t include smoke and fire are much more frequent and need just as quick a response. Please make sure you have visible, reflective numbers that can be seen in all seasons. Many towns and fire departments will help install the standard green-and-white signs in exchange for a donation. Check with a local firefighter or town clerk.

I don’t. I live at the intersection of two main roads, right on those roads. My mailbox has big numbers on it. You can’t miss it. Unless, I recently discovered, you are coming from a different direction. My newspaper box has covered the mailbox number (which is across the street anyway. I don’t live across the street). And when it is dark, all bets are off. When the ground thaws, I will install a new, reflective sign at the end of my driveway.

Editor’s note: Peter Conlon of Cornwall is a volunteer member of his local fire department and was assistant editor of this newspaper for a decade until November 2004.

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