With all the recent discussion about the Emergency Management Agency office being transferred to the sheriff, I feel it's time the residents of this county speak out and voice their opinion.
I don't feel as though this move would be at all justifiable at this time, or any time, for that matter. I don't believe in fixing something that is not broken, and the current EMA office is in no way broken.
(Jeff) Lauer has worked for the last several years independently and has accomplished much more than a department of people could have. The relationship that the area fire departments have with Lauer is a good working relationship, but I cannot say the same as with the sheriff's office. We have had territory issues and who should be called to certain areas that we have requested the sheriff to help and offer solutions and have been unheard. We have had problems with dispatchers not giving us the same attention as the deputies receive - again it has gone unfixed and we have been told that their priority is the deputies.
We have proposed ideas to fix the long delays with rural departments during the daytime due to members working and that, too, was not heard or handled. As you can see, we have made attempts with the sheriff's office to establish good communication, but it seems as though it could be a bit one-sided.
The statement has been made that there is no emergency operation plan in place. But I can speak differently because during last year's derecho, I spent three days working in the Emergency Operations Center beside Lauer, and I have to say, there was a pretty good plan set in place. I know that Lauer has spent countless hours making trips to area plants and such, setting up plans with each of them, as well as all of the fire departments. In recent years, Lauer has been able to single-handedly get all of the area departments set up with MARCS radios which enable our EMS and fire crews to have better communications not only with our dispatchers, but other outside agencies such as medical helicopters.
There are no personal issues with the sheriff himself. I just feel this job needs to remain in the hands that it is currently in. And maybe we should focus more toward an actual 911 center similar to Wood County. Instead of focusing on things that aren't broken, let's fix the things that are.
Please check with your local fire departments and ask them their thoughts on this transition and I'm sure you will hear something similar to the things you have read above.
We need some separation of departments in the county. They cannot all be run by the sheriff. At what point does this office begin to get overloaded and things slip through the cracks? This office is now overseeing the dog warden as well as 911 coordinator and who knows for sure how many deputies, detectives and taskforce members. It's best that law enforcement be responsible for the laws and those types of emergencies and the others be handled by those trained to do so, such as fire scenes and hazmat scenes - these are firefighting duties, not law enforcement, until the incidents are neutralized and then they will be handled from there.
I really feel that this office is best left in the control it is now and if our commissioners need more information from Lauer then they should ask and learn his position instead of passing the command along.
Please research with other counties and see where they have ended up over this same step. Let's not walk a path that is not going be rewarding to anyone involved.
Mike Lee is former president of Washington County Fire Association. He lives in Marietta.