Police chief sounds off about staff shortage, radio changes
On the same evening that some residents spoke in favor of a fire station expansion, the town’s police chief noted a couple “troubling” developments for his team of first responders.
CPD Chief Ed Buchholz is concerned the current staffing shortage could grow worse, and that larger local agencies’ plans to install a new radio system could reduce his department’s communication with them.
Nine people, many of whom are affiliated with Centerville Fire/Rescue, spoke in favor of the department’s proposal to pursue a state grant to renovate and expand Fire Station No. 1 on South Morton Avenue. No one spoke in opposition.
Chief Dennis Spears continues to seek letters of support from residents within the next couple of weeks to accompany the application. He said he appreciated the approximately 200 survey responses about the project, crediting a QR code that enabled participation on mobile devices. Donna Anderson of Kenna Consulting, which is helping the town apply, was pleasantly surprised by the high response rate.
Councilman Jack Bodiker said some residents are concerned the project could raise their taxes. He said it’s not guaranteed the town will get the grant, and even if the project is chosen, the town would not increase taxes because it could repay a loan for its share of the cost over a long time.
The state also will require an income survey of nearly 100 residents to accompany the application. Dates have not yet been announced.
Winners of the grants will be announced in February 2023.
Some of the reasons speakers cited for the project:
- The station was built in 1980 without renovations or major upkeep, so its HVAC and lighting systems are the same age, and its utility expenses could decrease with new technology. The building’s lack of sprinkler and exhaust removal systems means it’s not meeting today’s codes.
- An exhaust system is needed to protect firefighters from diesel fumes. The station hasn’t been mandated to put in an exhaust system because it is not occupied overnight as full-time stations are, but firefighters are spending more hours there as call volume increases. So far, they’ve had 510 calls this year. With an exhaust system, apparatus could be inspected in the garage during winter.
- Town officials discovered during COVID they needed a larger place for meetings than the city building to allow for social distancing. Trucks had to be removed from the bays to accommodate guests, and Spears said the bays weren’t a good place for the gathering. Two more bays would be needed if the training room grows into that space.
- Women are joining the fire department, so having their own restrooms and showers would help. They are now using the men’s room with a deadbolt lock.
- Centerville has been a leader in Wayne County in terms of fire service and training and organizes training exercises incorporating other departments. Those exercises encourage better cooperation, compatibility and more familiarity between departments.
- A larger station could accommodate a firetruck with an elevated tower that could be used if a tall structure burns. New homes have a lot of angles and high elevation that aren’t compatible with regular ladders, so a bigger apparatus could save lives.
- It’s important to invest in the future to make sure first responders have what they need to be successful when called. One landlord said he would be totally lost if his properties were destroyed by fire and taking fire safety seriously could help with the town’s growth in future years.
- If the town has an extended power outage because of electricity blackout or hazardous weather such as a blizzard, people can go to the fire station as a warming or cooling station and use its electricity for medical devices. Accessible restrooms would be better suited for visitors’ needs.
In other business
Food drive: From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, area residents may donate non-perishable foods or monetary gifts outside the police station on U.S. 40 or give money to volunteer firefighters during a fill-the-boot campaign at Main Street and Morton Avenue. Both departments, with assistance from Abington firefighters, deliver food boxes to residents in need before Thanksgiving and Christmas. The number of deliveries continues to increase.
Turkey Chase: Council approved a route for the annual Turkey Chase, which starts at 1 p.m. Nov. 19 from Centerville Senior High School. Police and fire departments will assist with traffic safety.
The school has taken over organizing the run after the Easter Seals office closed.
Before the vote, Councilman James Bullen asked what the route would be, and then seemed surprised that the race took place in town.
“I was thinking they go after real turkeys,” Bullen said, then chuckling at himself, calling it another “duh” moment.
Soup supper: The fire auxiliary received approval for its annual fundraiser from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 12 at Fire Station 1. Diners can choose delivery, drive-thru, carryout or indoor seating.
Leaves: Pickup started Tuesday, Oct. 18, and will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays through Nov. 17. As piles get bigger, collection sometimes continues into the evenings. Bullen urged residents to be cautious around leaf crews, especially in the dark, because motorists sped by some workers last year. Additional lighting has been installed on the leaf vac to make it more visible.
Medical device users: Those who have a loved one at home using oxygen or another medical device requiring energy should contact the city building to make sure they are on the town’s priority list for electric service before winter. Police and fire departments get a copy of the list, and they try to check on those residents during extended power outages.
Art installation: Construction of the three-dimensional project in Maplewood Park is expected to be complete by Oct. 31.
Trick-or-Treat: Candy seekers are invited between 5-8 p.m. Oct. 31. Firefighters will give candy at Fire Station 1, and another location near Fire Station 2 on U.S. 40, such as Rose Hamilton Elementary, that would be safer for large numbers of visitors.
Police chief’s concerns
Buchholz said manpower shortages in law enforcement are affecting CPD as well as other departments, so his officers are being recruited by county officers.
In addition, current CPD officers are accumulating overtime pay while making sure the town is covered 24/7, affecting the town’s budget.
Buchholz said he’s been trying to increase CPD officers’ base pay, but the sheriff’s department also is increasing salaries to be competitive, and the town can’t compete with a starting salary of more than $51,000 for officers if raises in the county’s 2023 budget are approved.
Beyond the manpower issue, Buchholz said he’s disturbed and upset to learn small towns will be left out of plans for an encrypted radio system that Richmond Police Department and the sheriff’s department expect to begin using in the coming months.
Some agencies are trying to reduce public access to scanner chatter, as real-time access to that information has grown through social media, sometimes increasing citizen traffic that add to first responders’ challenges.
“I’ve been doing this job too long to let this go by and the citizens not know about it,” Buchholz said.
One mobile radio compatible with the encrypted system costs about $3,500, so Centerville’s cost for mobile and portable radios for police officers and their vehicles would exceed $40,000.
That doesn’t count the radios needed for 25 firefighters and their nine trucks for nearly $120,000 more.
“I don’t know how anybody expects small agencies to maintain that type of equipment,” Buchholz said.
Buchholz said all first responders in the county are supposed to have compatible communications systems, a need that developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
While Centerville’s residents are CPD’s first priority, Buchholz said his officers will provide mutual aid when nearby officers or residents’ lives are in danger if needed.
Council President Dan Wandersee, a father of two Indiana State Police officers, said state troopers also need to be able to communicate with smaller town departments, and a lack of communication could mean potential injury for the public or first responders.
Wandersee said anyone with a cell or landline phone is paying taxes for emergency communications and should contact their county commissioners with their concerns about incompatible radios.
Council approved a total of $2,161 for two radios for the new reserve officers Buchholz is trying to hire to offset manpower issues. One prospective reserve officer’s car radio works occasionally.
While making his request, Buchholz said he might be throwing money out the window to buy the current radios that aren’t encrypted, but the officers need that vital equipment now to communicate.