On Thursday September 13th, homes and business in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover serviced by Columbia Gas were rocked by numerous explosions and fires. Dispatcher Katie Ramos was in the station when the fires occurred and was able to give an inside look at the process for the dispatchers in Andover.
Ramos has been working for the Andover Police Department for a little under three years. Before coming to Andover, she spent four years working as a dispatcher for ambulance companies.
Andover’s dispatch station has around 100 calls on a busy day. On the day of the fires, Ramos said the number of calls “felt like a million but probably in the high hundreds.” The dispatch center had all eight of their desk phones in use, as well as other phones around the station.
Ramos said she’d never been in a dispatch room that was that active before. Andover had one dispatcher covering the fire personnel, sending them to the addresses the other dispatchers provided him with. Ramos was on the police radio that night, “sending officers into homes to, you know, try to put out fires, even just to see if it was a fire or to see if there was flames showing, see how bad it was.”
The calls started around 4 p.m., and for the dispatchers, who usually leave work around 4:45, it would mean a late night. The day shift dispatchers stayed until 10 p.m. All the dispatchers in Andover would end up pulling double shifts all weekend. Ramos said the dispatchers only went home to sleep, and then would come back to the station.
“I looked around, and I just thought like, this is the end of the world, like this is probably what that would feel like. It was like a movie,” said Ramos.
After Andover Police sent out a reverse 911 call, Ramos said that people kept calling to ask if it was a joke. It was just surreal for so many people involved.
Help came from all over, with emergency services coming from all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and some people as far away as Maine coming to help. Ramos went to drop food off at a command center and saw hundreds of State Troopers. Even driving around the affected areas days later, one could not help but notice a strong police presence.
According to official estimates, those who were affected by the gas leaks will not get their gas restored until November. Until then, people are using plug-in stoves and showers.
These fires hit a little too close to home for a lot of people. Without the dispatchers and other emergency personnel who worked around the clock to control the fires, the outcome might have been so much worse.