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 Emergency Response Hot Topic at Town Meeting

February 20, 2008 - Discussion about Rush County’s response to Carthage-area emergencies took place at a recent Carthage Town Council meeting.

Addressing the council, Rush County Sheriff Jeff Sherwood said he was unpset by some of Council President Rick Bush's remarks during the council's January 9 meeting.

"I've listened to the tape … and I found some of the comments upsetting," Sherwood said. In reference to a January 2 fire that claimed the life of a young Carthage boy, the sheriff said it sounded as if Bush had been blaming the sheriff's department for the tragedy.

Bush told Sherwood he had not intended to place blame on the sheriff's department. However, he said he and others in the community had questions about why the Carthage Police Department had been dispatched to the fire before the fire deparment.

Sherwood explained that the CPD was dispatched first to check on an incomplete 911 call coming from Pavey's Grocery in Carthage - something he said was standard procedure. He also noted that the second call that came in reported a fire at an abandoned house, something which, it turned out, was not accurate. According to Sherwood, the tone went out alerting the fire department after the second 911 call came in. He said his department was notified that the fire department was in route within one minute and 28 seconds of that.

"My comments did not come out of a vacuum," Bush said. "It came from conversations with (Carthage Town Marshal) Mike Onkst and the fire chief." At the January 9 meeting, Carthage Fire Chief Boyd Duncan told the council that he had a dispatch log from the RCSD showing that seven minutes elapsed from when the police department was dispatched until the fire department was dispatched.

Sherwood indicated that he had spoken with Duncan about the situation. He asked Bush why he had not picked up the phone or come down to the sheriff's department to discuss this matter instead of making his comments during a public meeting.

Bush said it was a matter of public concern and an appropriate topic for discussion. He said he wasn't the only person who had questions about the dispatch times, but said others apparently didn't have the guts to say anything to Sherwood about it.

"And evidently you don't either," Sherwood said.

"I don't have to answer to you or come talk to you," Bush shot back. He said he thought there was "something still not adding up."

Sherwood told Bush and the council that his door at the RCSD is open. He said if Bush or any of the others wanted to come listen to a recording of the 911 dispatches, they could do so, which Bush said was "fair."

Bush told Sherwood that people in Carthage are concerned about what they perceive as a slow response time, and want answers about when the fire department was dispatched. While he said he couldn't speak for the CVFD, Sherwood said that a lot of volunteer fire departments experience slower response times during daytime hours due to unavailability of personnel.

Sherwood did tell the council that part of the audio from the 911 dispatch is not audible on the recording they have. He said when the tone went out, the dispatcher can be heard dispatching the fire department, but that she can't be heard on the radio.

"Maybe we ought to start from there and find out where that audio went," Council Vice President Wanda Henderson said. If that was a problem contributing to a slow response time, she said this could be "a chance for us to improve it and fix it."

Sherwood said the RCSD had reviewed its radio settings and policies to correct this issue. He encouraged the council not to hesitate to contact him when issues arise, and said he would do his best to address any concerns they have.

In another county-related matter, Bush revealed at last week's meeting that the town has been directed by a county attorney to quit clearing roads outside the town's limits of snow and ice. A January 17 letter from attorney Leigh Morning had apparently come in response to the town's request that the county provide Carthage with sand to put down on county roads.

"Carthage has a limited area in which it can maintain the roads," Morning wrote in her letter. "Any road outside of your corporate boundary line, or that your boundary line splits down the middle, are roads for Rush County to maintain. Carthage should not touch these roads."

"Salt causes roads to deteriorate more quickly," Morning continued. "As you know, millions of dollars were spent on County Road 700 West. We would like to see the road last as long as possible. By directing your people to put salt on the road, you are simply causing the road to deteriorate. You do not have the manpower, equipment or funds to maintain and repair the road."

Rush County Commissioner Kenny Masters told Bush that he had spoken with Rush County Highway Superintendent Jerry Sitton about the town's request for sand. Masters said Sitton told him he doesn't want to give sand to the town.

Carthage works manager Jimmie Alcorn said a county worker who lives in the area told him he has to drive all the way to Rushville to clock in before he can start plowing roads. Masters said he was not aware of that policy.

Bush said Carthage was simply offering to help the county out. While he said the county's road-clearing efforts had been better in recent weeks, he said he thought the county needed to be more proactive in dealing with snow and ice.

Masters told the council to hold off for right now and see how the highway department responds. "Let's let it slowly cook on the pot and see what we can get done in the next year," he said.

Sherwood asked the council whether the town's insurance would cover town employees involved in an accident while clearing roads outside the town limits. Bush said he thought it would be no different than when the town's police officers respond to calls outside of town. Sherwood suggested the council might want to double check that.



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