Even emergency crews left in a bind


The Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Department ambulance was stuck in a 3-foot snowdrift on an entrance ramp to Interstate 795 yesterday, paramedics frantically trying to push it out of its rut as they treated an 87-year-old woman suffering a heart attack.

The workers flagged down a Maryland National Guard Humvee - a wide-bodied, camouflage-painted combat vehicle - that happened to rumble past. Sgt. Billie Ray Womble and Spc. Elmer Butts jumped out of the vehicle, hooked a chain around the ambulance's bumper and gunned the Humvee's engine. But the ambulance wouldn't budge.

So the guardsmen became ambulance drivers, taking the woman to Northwest Hospital Center in their Humvee as the medics kept her alive in the back.

This teamwork - which officials said may have saved the woman's life - was played out across Maryland as 225 soldiers driving 100 Humvees transported patients to hospitals, helped police patrol the streets, and delivered food and blankets to the needy.

Many of the soldiers stepped up at a time when they're waiting to hear whether they will be sent to the Middle East for a possible war with Iraq.

"It is exciting to help people. We take a sense of pride in what we do. That's what we're here for, to help people," said Butts.

Local government officials throughout the Baltimore area said the military's help was much needed, with one of the largest snowstorms in state history keeping police cars and ambulances from rolling down many side streets.

"Mother Nature helped us out by finally letting up on the snow, and we are getting heavy equipment from the Maryland National Guard that is also helping quite a bit," said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. "If you took time to dig out your car this morning, as my wife and I did, you know what a monumental task we have ahead of us."

The mayor said the city has spent at least $1 million in overtime as 150 city laborers have worked around the clock driving 110 snowplows to try to clear the streets. The major arteries, such as Interstate 83 and Baltimore Street, were free enough of snow to allow car traffic yesterday, as was much of downtown.

The city towed more than 200 cars from major streets downtown to help snowplows clear the roadways.

At least 11 ambulance drivers had to call for help by 1 p.m. yesterday, although in almost all cases they were not carrying any patients, said Fire Lt. Ron Addison. Military Humvees and city snowplows came to the ambulance crews' assistance.

The Guard vehicles also helped the city distribute 150 electric heaters, more than 300 bundles of food and as many blankets to needy families, mostly senior citizens stuck in their homes, said Reginald Scriber, ombudsman for the city Department of Housing and Community Development.

The soldiers also proved effective at helping the city hand out 20 containers of infant formula to families with babies who were desperate for food, Scriber said.

"The Humvees are very helpful - because they allow us to get to places we couldn't get otherwise," said Scriber.

In suburban areas - where many residents spent the day digging out - emergency officials reported a flurry of snow-related problems. These included at least three collapsed barn roofs in Howard County, and a garage fire in Baltimore County that started when an overheated snowblower went up in flames.

In Anne Arundel County, firetrucks got stuck in snow at 6:30 a.m. as they rushed to a burning house in Brooklyn, officials said. A 17-ton pumper truck had to batter its way through the snow to the front of the house, on Brookwood Road, by backing up and lurching forward several times.

In Carroll County, the roof canopy of a Mount Airy 7-Eleven collapsed and damaged two vehicles that were parked at the gas pumps, said Lt. Terry L. Katz of the Westminster barracks of the Maryland State Police. No injuries were reported.

Howard County officials say it will take several more days for their 93 plows and 112 workers, aided by recreation and parks and school vehicles, to clear all roads and school parking lots.

Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Athima Chansanchai, Ariel Sabar, Del Quentin Wilber and Don Schiller contributed to this article.

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