WATERTOWN — With his nearly 30 years in the New York state police, David J. Peters could tell you scores of stories involving that service.
But tales about The Great Ice Storm of 1998 seem to be frozen in time for him. He shared some of those stories over morning coffee earlier this month at Shorty’s Place on Coffeen Street.
“My account is only a fraction of the total efforts that many agencies, as well as power companies, etcetera made to what I would consider a very successful recovery during a prolonged period,” Mr. Peters said.
Mr. Peters responded to a request by the Watertown Daily Times seeking memories of The Great Ice Storm of 1998 on its 25th anniversary. Part 1 was published Jan. 14 and part 2 was published last Saturday.
Mr. Peters retired as captain, overseeing Zone 3 of the state police’s Troop D. The zone consists of Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties. His last day on the job was Dec. 9, 1998, but he officially retired in January of 1999.
Mr. Peters and his wife, Marilyn, live in Cape Vincent, where they also resided during the ice storm. His recollections for this article are a mixture of written notes he made and his verbal comments.
Mr. Peters recalled telling his associates that the storm’s aftermath and its effects on people would go in three phases:
“The first phase is they’re going to be so busy,” he said. “The second phase — the longer they go, they’re going to get pissed off. And then, they’re going to adapt. And that’s just the way it went. It wasn’t my first rodeo.”
The official dates of The Great Ice Storm of 1998 are Jan. 5-9.
“With the sound of tree limbs breaking, I knew we were in trouble,” Mr. Peters said.
On that first day of the storm, it took him 20 minutes just to pick his way out of the village of Cape Vincent as he headed to Zone 3 barracks on State Route 37, Pamelia.
“I had to drive across a few lawns and find a back way to get to Route 12E,” he said.
“The first day, we went to 12-hour shifts,” Mr. Peters recalled. “It took three personnel just to man the telephones at the Watertown zone headquarters due to the incoming calls.”
During this time, state police handled their own dispatch calls. They weren’t handled at a centralized center like they are now.
“Soon after the ice storm hit, Jefferson County activated the County Emergency Center in the bowels of the County Office Building,” Mr. Peters said. “I placed two state police members there on the day shift and one on the night shift throughout the duration for liaison purposes. Jefferson County and Lewis County clerks each provided a fistful of maps for us to mark out, on an easel in my office, the power outages and the progress being made on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Peters sought assistance to manage the situation.
“I brought Lt. Ed Grant from Troop D headquarters early on to assist with the daytime operations, which freed me up to deal with the big picture,” Mr. Peters said, adding that it was the only time he had direct assistance of a commissioned officer in his years as zone commander.
“Not only did I have Lt. Grant to assist me, but I had a number of very qualified Zone 3 non-commissioned officers as well,” Mr. Peters said.
Troop D commander Maj. James Parmley happened to be on vacation during the storm, Mr. Peters recalled.
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