The entire city of Buffalo was hit with a major winter storm that left at least 31 people dead in Erie County, according to local officials. Essential workers found themselves trapped inside their homes, unable to get to work over the holiday weekend.
Several nurses say they wouldn’t have been able to get to work on Friday if it weren’t for a band of local snowmobilers. “It can go through anything. It’s just made for it, and I can go through 8, 10-foot drifts and it’s just like cutting butter,” said Rich McNamara of the Northern Erie Sno Seekers snowmobile club. Members of the club quickly hopped on the roads to make sure essential workers could get to and from work during the storm.
“We got this machine, the groomer, took it out there and rescued people until about 3 in the morning.” McNamara said.
The crew stopped to help anyone they saw out during the storm. They gave over 100 rides over the weekend. “Five kids, three state troopers, three EMT guys. It was bad. Worst I’ve ever seen it,” McNamara said.
As the word started to spread, the members started receiving dozens of calls from essential workers looking to get to work. “Where I live, it hadn’t stopped snowing,” said Shealyn McCoy, who works as an ICU nurse at Buffalo General Hospital.
When she got up on Saturday morning, she took one look outside her window and realized there was no way she was going to make it to work.
“So, I put out a status on Instagram and said, ‘Is there anybody who can pick up a couple coworkers and I from Transit?’” McCoy said.
Her followers connected her to the snowmobile club. They showed up a short while later and gave her a ride to the hospital, so she could bring relief to the other nurses on staff.
“Don’t get me wrong; it’s important to relieve any nurse at any point. Us getting there, we had coworkers that were crying tears of joy when they saw us coming through the doors. It was that level of relief,” McCoy said.
She said she will always remember the look on her colleague’s faces when they realized they could finally go home. “We like to give back. The snowmobile club, we do a lot. And we have an opportunity to do something. We can get around better than anybody else out there,” McNamara said.
“The epitome of the city of good neighbors. He said we can do what we do and that’s it – but we have to find ways to be in service of others, and that really hit home because that’s what these guys are doing, going out and doing whatever they can to save people’s lives,” McCoy said.
Some essential workers weren’t so lucky. Thirteen staff members at the neonatal intensive care unit at Sisters of Charity Hospital worked from Friday to Sunday without reinforcements because of the storm.
Jennifer Day Mendola, the NICU nurse manager, was trapped in her home during the storm, but she kept in constant contact with nurse Amy Highway.
The nurses in the unit normally work 12-hour shifts, but they had to work overtime because there was no one to replace them. They did their best to rotate shifts while trapped at the hospital, so they could take turns getting some sleep.
Mendola said the nurses exhibited the true spirit of Christmas by caring for the hospital’s tiniest patients during the storm. “This is the true meaning of Christmas, putting others before yourself,” she wrote on Facebook, along with photographs of the nurses, doctors, therapists, nursing assistants, housekeepers, administrators, unit clerks and others who worked through the blizzard.
“My heart goes out to everyone,” Mendola wrote. “I am humbled by your sacrifice. THANK YOU and Merry Christmas.