Monday, August 18, 2008

Citizens take action

This was a fun one to do.

St. Joseph News-Press

Armed with radar guns, several citizens in St. Joseph now have their sights set on speeders.
Citizens who are concerned with speeders in their area can do something about it with the help of Sgt. Bill McCammon of the St. Joseph Police Department.
Wednesday night, two St. Joseph residents did just that. Danielle Hunt and Jim Korell with the Central Neighborhood Watch Group spent just more than an hour in the back of a sport utility vehicle armed with a pen, paper and a Police Department-issued radar gun.

“We live on some pretty busy streets and there are a lot of kids running around,” Ms. Hunt said.
As they sat in the back of the SUV, aiming the radar gun out the back window, it suddenly became fun.
“Thirty-two, 34, 38,” Mr. Korell would say trying to guess the speed of the approaching vehicles as Ms. Hunt operated the radar gun.
Suddenly a zippy, sports car shot through the pack.
“Here we go, here we go,” the two shouted as they lunged forward to try to read the license plate.
“You want to catch them,” Mr. Korell said. “But a lot of the time people are slowing down, which is good. But you just wanna nail ‘em.”
Mr. Korell and Ms. Hunt both underwent a brief training session and a background check, required by the Police Department, before they were allowed to participate in the program.
Mr. McCammon said the pair are the third group to participate in the program so far. The Police Department sent 18 warning letters to speeders as a result of the first two groups’ efforts.
“We are not allowed to write tickets,” Ms. Hunt said. “We note the vehicle information and the speed they were going, if it is more than 10 miles over, and that gets turned into the Police Department.”
The Police Department then processes that information and distributes written warnings to speeders whose information added up. If a number was written incorrectly or the make or model were not a match, that speeder got lucky, Mr. McCammon said.
Ms. Hunt and Mr. Korell clocked three different vehicles all traveling 14 miles over the posted speed limit as well as five other offenders, including a pizza delivery car, all in less than an hour and a half.
Residents wishing to participate in the program can fill out a request form on the Police Department’s Web site or in person at the Law Enforcement Center. The Police Department has two radar guns available for citizen use.
“I felt like we accomplished something,” Mr. Korell said as they ended their watch.

On the scene in 9 minutes flat or less

Another POD. This was on ambulance response times - a hot topic in St. Joseph.

St. Joseph News-Press

Vickie Pickett remembers a day when waiting for an ambulance could sometimes seem like forever. Now, sometimes they arrive before she’s ready for them.Ms. Pickett is a night medic at the Vintage Garden South assisted living center. She joined Vintage Garden South three years ago and remembers waiting several minutes with her elderly patients before an ambulance would arrive.

“I just called one not too long ago, and they were here before I had the paperwork ready for them,” Ms. Pickett said.
About three years ago, Heartland Regional Medical Center received numerous complaints from citizens and from the St. Joseph Fire Department about ambulance response times. Heartland officials decided to make some changes, and they hired Tom Little as the director of ambulances.
Mr. Little was notified of 59 different concerns that Heartland needed to address with its ambulance department. He says now almost all 59 concerns have been addressed, including the addition of two more ambulances and new ambulance-waiting locations in the city.
For a majority of the day, Heartland has four different ambulances on standby at various locations. They also have the help of the Fire Department’s first responders on every call.
Mr. Little said there is a great need for the assistance of the Fire Department to be on every call.
“It’s crucial to have them there,” Mr. Little said. “They can get there almost three minutes ahead of us.”
Although Fire Department responders aren’t allowed to transport patients, the extra time they are there allows for initial care and assessment prior to a Heartland ambulance crew arriving to take the patient to the hospital.
How quickly the Fire Department arrives at an emergency is important, because statistics show Heartland ambulances still are coming up short in one national standard. Heartland tries to get to life-threatening situations (also called priority one calls) in less than nine minutes 90 percent of the time.
From July 2004 through June 2005, Heartland responders made it to life-threatening scenes within nine minutes just more than 60 percent of the time. Since July 2006, Heartland has made it to priority one calls within nine minutes more than 85 percent of the time.
The goal is to arrive at priority two calls, or non-life threatening situations, in less than 12 minutes. They have met their priority two goal 100 percent of the time since July 2006.
Those numbers have made the job a little more difficult for the Fire Department.
“We’re really having to hustle to beat them now,” said Steve Daniels, chief training officer for the Fire Department.
Responders from the Fire Department often use firetrucks as their transportation to a medical call, which Mr. Daniels says sometimes slows them down. However, getting smaller vehicles doesn’t appear to be an option.
“We don’t have the space,” Mr. Daniels said. “A lot of the (fire) stations are single structure buildings that just don’t have enough room for an SUV or car for us to drive on medical.”
There is one truck and one sport utility vehicle in the entire Fire Department that get used for medical calls, Mr. Daniels said.
Mr. Daniels isn’t fond of the idea of sending out a $3.25 million piece of fire equipment on a medical call.
“We’re taxpayers too, and if there were a better idea, we would take it,” Mr. Daniels said.
Even with the expense, Mr. Daniels also feels the need for both sets of responders — the Fire Department and Heartland ambulance crews.
“The two people that ride in a Heartland ambulance may not be enough to handle the situation,” Mr. Daniels said.
The Fire Department sends a minimum of three people on a medical call, which can come in handy with multi-victim situations or serious wrecks, he said.
According to Mr. Little’s statistics, the Fire Department responders have met their goal of a six-minute response time 87 percent of the time since December 2007.
Mr. Daniels would like to see that number improve to 95 percent of the time. He’d also like all firefighters to become emergency medical technician (EMT) certified. Currently, about 70 of the 132 firefighters have that certification. Mr. Daniels said it is now a requirement for all new firefighters to be certified.
Another change Mr. Little made was to EMT certify all dispatchers who take the 911 phone calls.
When a resident calls 911 for a medical emergency, the call first goes to the St. Joseph and Buchanan County Law Enforcement Center before it is routed to Heartland to dispatch an ambulance.
“It’s important to have EMT-certified dispatchers, because if it’s a case where they have assessed by phone that a baby needs CPR, they can give the caller instructions to get it started before first responders even arrive,” Mr. Little said.
While there is still progress to be made, Mr. Little said the accomplishments of the ambulance department are great.
“Heartland gets no tax dollars to run its ambulance crews,” Mr. Little said.
The department runs off a $3.5 million operating budget each year and saw a $1.2 million dollar loss (expenses over patient fees) last year.
With high gas prices, Mr. Little said it now costs about $186 a day to fill each ambulance with diesel fuel.
Regardless of the cost and grief taken, both Heartland and the Fire Department feel they must continue to support each other.
“This town’s not big enough for two ambulance services, and the one it has needs everything it can get to continue running,” Mr. Little said.

Sheriff Strong runs for re-election on his record

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

When it comes to running a sheriff’s department, Mike Strong has the know how.The Benton High School graduate and St. Joseph native has been Buchanan County’s sheriff for almost four years. Mr. Strong is up for re-election in the Aug. 5 primary against fellow Democratic candidate Ron Fisher.“It was always my intent to run again,” Mr. Strong said in regards to a possible re-election.While his first goal is to win the election, he also puts the re-organization of the department, increasing the patrol division and cost saving measures on his to-do list.“We’ve made a lot of gains but there is always somewhere to go,” Mr. Strong said.

Under his supervision the Sheriff’s Department has landed under budget several times. For 2007, the department came in $176,000 under budget even after a cut in maintenance funding, Mr. Strong said. A change to the food inmates are served saved $40,000 in a matter of two months.
While he remains proud of the fact that he was able to reduce the department’s accumulated holiday time by 80 percent, he plans to continue that trend, which he said has saved the department more than $200,000.
County records show a more than 5,000-hour decline in holiday hours from December 2006 to May 2008. However, the number of vacation hours in that time period went up slightly, by about 1,600 to 23,173 hours.
By increasing the patrol division Mr. Strong hopes to leave a better presence on the streets and roads of the county.
“When we make a stop for a traffic violation, a lot of times we find drugs or other things,” Mr. Strong said.
Mr. Strong’s competition, including two Republican candidates, have said they’d get rid of part or all of the department’s fleet of sport utility vehicles. With no intentions of changing the SUVs deputies currently drive, Mr. Strong stands firm against his opposition.
“If it’s a case of a rolled tractor or a washed out road we can absolutely get to people,” Mr. Strong said. “We can’t afford two fleets to have cars and the Durangos.”
Mr. Strong also prides himself that just three weeks after he took office in 2005 an online sex offender registry was put in place under his supervision.
Drug Strike Force Capt. Mike Donaldson stands behind Mr. Strong in his quest for re-election.
“He keeps his campaign promises,” Mr. Donaldson said. “He’s got over 30 years in law enforcement including the last 15 in management and the last four as sheriff.”
Mr. Donaldson says he has witnessed the gains within the department under Mr. Strong’s leadership.
“He’s been under budget the last two years and has taken some unfair shots,” Mr. Donaldson said.
Mr. Strong feels that he’s the most qualified and has the most experience and that he has close hometown roots.
“My family has served in this community for over 30 years with a good reputation,” he said.
Mr. Strong hopes the community will give him a chance to complete the job by allowing him to continue on as sheriff for four more years.
“He’s done a good job, scratch that, he’s done a great job,” Mr. Donaldson said