The weekend of March 12-13, 1993, would be a catalyst for change within the Rome-Floyd Fire Department.
“We didn’t know we would get anything like we got,” said Fire Chief Gordon Henderson, who was a deputy chief at the time.
The problems started early for first responders as the ice and wind made driving treacherous in the first hours of the storm.
It took Deputy Chief Benny Bohannon an hour and a half to get from his home on Old Dalton Road in Armuchee to Harbin Clinic on Martha Berry Boulevard when a call came in at 11 p.m. that Friday night.
“It was scary,” said Bohannon, who recently retired from the department. “I had never seen it snow so hard and lightning at the same time. It was an eerie sight.”
After getting stuck twice on the way, Bohannon finally made it to Harbin Clinic, where there turned out to be no problem. He then made it to the Fire Department Headquarters on West First Street downtown, where the power was already out. The 911 Center, which had only been in service for four years, was making dispatch calls by phone.
Henderson, Bohannon and many others stayed at the station from Friday night through Tuesday morning since the roadways were closed and people could not get home or get to work.
Bohannon remembers sleeping on the floor of then-Chief Bobby McKenzie’s office.
With restaurants and stores closed for most of the time, emergency personnel had to do some rationing of food during the weekend.
“It got pretty rough there for a while,” Bohannon said.
There were several house fires while the roads were closed, according to Bohannon — some of which occurred in areas that firefighters simply couldn’t access. But Bohannon said there were no serious injuries reported.
“When you work as many hours as we had to work, the snow was not that pretty,” he said.
“It was a sight,” said Henderson. “It was a time when everything was shut down. The only people really that worked were the public safety people.”
When the roads became somewhat passable on Tuesday, Bohannon and department mechanic Tommy Helms made it up to the maintenance division on North Avenue.
Bohannon took a medium-sized tractor that belonged to the department and traveled up to Station 8 in Armuchee — riding down the one northbound lane of U.S. 27 that was cleared — to clean off the concrete pad so they could finally get the truck back in the bay.
By the time he made the nearly 12-mile trek, Bohannon said, he had a sheet of ice on his pants and coat from the water that splashed up on him along the way.
“Everybody pitched in and tried to help as much as they could, especially to get emergency personnel where they needed to go,” Henderson said. “All the public safety people always worked well together to made sure things got done.”
The fire department had only one four-wheel drive vehicle in its entire fleet at the time.
“We all had to use our own personal vehicles to take people back and forth from home to work, because they had four-wheel drive,” Henderson said. “We had just never encountered a situation like that.”
Henderson recalls that none of the city and county departments had many vehicles with four-wheel drive capability back then.
Bohannon said that soon after things settled down, the fire department went to the city and got a request approved to buy more four-wheel drive vehicles.
“Even now, most all of our vehicles are four-wheel drive so we can get around pretty much anywhere,” Bohannon said. “It comes in handy if there are any plane crashes or people that get hurt in the woods while riding four-wheelers.
Other changes that came about due to the experiences of the 1993 blizzard was the addition of a chainsaw to every truck’s equipment, along with snow cables, and the increase in battalion chiefs from three to six.
“It was pretty amazing, but I don’t want to go through it again,” Bohannon said.