Looking back on the New Year | NevadaAppeal.com

Looking back on the New Year

Rex Bovee

As the last seconds of 1999 ticked off, the Carson City emergency preparedness team watched the televised countdown on the Club Cal-Neva marquee.

Toasts were raised with sparkling fruit juice and a few party horns tooted.

Then, seconds into the third millennium, the lights went out.

They were back on within seconds and many of the nearly 50 specialists at the Carson City Emergency Operations Center, set up in Fire Station One on South Stewart Street, made comments about someone pulling a breaker as a joke.

But the lights did not come back on at the Ormsby House, the Carson Station, the AM/PM or the Timbers Tavern. A metalized helium balloon released in front of the Timbers at midnight to mark the new year had floated into power lines, shorting them and tripping breakers at a power substation behind the Carson Station.

The fire station was lighted because its emergency generating system had kicked in. A similar generator fired up at the Ormsby House but quit after about five minutes, leaving guest areas illuminated by small battery-power emergency lights.

Nevada Department of Transportation workers were at the intersection of Carson and Fifth streets within minutes, directing traffic beneath non-functioning traffic lights as revelers began to leave the Ormsby House.

A block south, though, the crosswalk at the uncontrolled corner of Sixth Street was dark. A pedestrian was struck by a small car in the lane closest to the casino’s east entrance about 12:25 p.m. Two people were taken from the scene by ambulance, but no law enforcement report on the accident was available Saturday.

Power company workers reset tripped breakers and restored power to the area shortly before 1 a.m.

Back at Fire Station One, several of the city staffers who had come at 8 p.m. expecting a 12-hour vigil were sent home shortly after 1 a.m. Battalion chief Dan Shirey said it looked like the group, including financial and logistics specialists ready to deal with the details of a major disaster, would not be needed since no major occurrence had arrived with the new year.

Carson Fire Chief Lou Buckley, who is the city’s Emergency Operations Center manager, said the Y2K preparedness operation benefited the community even though no disaster materialized.

“This reinforced the emergency training programs of departments citywide,” Buckley said. “Each department, from ours to the road department, is mandated to have its own emergency training. But it’s very expensive to pull everyone together at once like this.

“We’ve had table top disaster simulations about once a year, but no full-scale disaster drills.”

The Carson City Fire Department was designated as coordinator of the city’s emergency response efforts three years ago, Buckley said.

That was after warm rains melted a healthy Sierra snowpack and Carson City was one of several communities along the range’s eastern front to suffer significant flooding. Before that, emergency management responsibilities fell to the city manager’s office.

“The Y2K concerns, even if they did not come to pass, focused on us because we had to be prepared for the worst. Everybody took them very seriously,” Buckley said. He compared emergency plans and preparedness training to a country maintaining a standing army.

“You hope you don’t need it but, if you don’t have one, you can find you’re in deep trouble,” he said.

The balloon incident in Carson City was the only power outage associated with the new year, according to Sierra Pacific Power Co. spokesman Karl Walquist.

He said the electrical industry has noted several instances in which the metalized plastic balloons have caused outages and is trying to educate the public about the hazard of releasing them outdoors.

Rubber balloons are not as likely to cause such a problem, he said. But he said anytime an object gets entangled in power lines, a hazard exists. He said people should always notify their utility rather than try to retrieve the item.

Walquist said the outage probably had not damaged the breakers at the power substation.