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Officers Check on Residents Without Power: National Guard Provides Humvee Escort Through Snow

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2-11-10

Officer Josh Whaley pounded on the door with a firm fist, then waited.

When there was no answer, he knocked again, until a woman peered out from behind the door. When she saw him in his uniform, a Humvee growling on the street behind him, she opened it wider.

Then, she smiled.

“You guys good?” he asked. “Anything you guys need?”

“Just light!” the woman responded.

“At least you have heat,” the officer said. “That’s a blessing.”

They talked for a minute or two in the foyer, their breath showing in the chilly night air. Then Officer Whaley stepped off the stoop and ventured back to the Humvee, off to check on the next powerless North Sider in need.

It was not an everyday assignment for the patrolman, who normally works in plainclothes, but during one of the worst snowstorms in the city’s history, things were still far from normal Wednesday.

Police were working 12-hour shifts, some on their days off, responding to a standard array of accidents and incidents and also answering a spate of calls to the city’s 311 hot line. They routinely checked on high-rise residents and pockets of town where people were without power.

City officials said officers knocked on more than 200 doors, but as the day drew to a close, calls for help dwindled, and the start of Officer Whaley’s shift was mostly quiet.

He rode in a Humvee with Staff Sgt. Kurt Defoor and Lt. Vincent Gross of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, who offered to take him into the North Side’s most steep and remote stretches, to snow-covered corners where police cruisers could not go.

With a list of addresses in his hand, Officer Whaley went on his “welfare check missions,” though, at several stops, no one was home. Mangled tree limbs blocked the door of a home on West North Avenue that appeared abandoned; no one answered his repeated knocks at a home on the hilly dead end of James Street, where power was reported out about 3 p.m.

Officer Whaley checked on a home next door, just in case.

“Everything’s fine,” said a woman who answered in pajamas. Then it was back to the Humvee.

“I’m usually out looking for guns and drugs, but it’s a good part of the job,” he said as Sgt. Defoor made a lap around the North Side, past curious onlookers who paused from shoveling to wave, stare and give the crew an occasional thumbs-up.

Elizabeth Amoah, on Western Avenue, said she was grateful for the knock at the door. She, her son, Robert, and 9-year-old daughter, Breyana, moved into their home Wednesday, and found themselves without electricity.

“We’re just trying to make do with what we have,” she told the officer.

Calls for help were scarce as night fell.

“I think the majority of people probably made it to the store to get what they need,” he said. “They’re just hunkering in and riding it out for now.”

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