Letter asked Conyngham Township to rename Main Street

Last updated: July 24. 2014 12:00AM - 1667 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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After a fatal fire May 15, Luzerne County’s administration sent Conyngham Township officials a letter asking them to consider renaming Main Street in the Mocanaqua section to something unique.

Conyngham borough 14 miles away also has a Main Street with similar address numbers.

Emergency crews were incorrectly sent to Main Street in the borough on May 15 after the initial 911 caller said the blaze was in the borough, and it took five minutes for 911 to issue a dispatch to the correct township Main Street location near Shickshinny, records show.

Addressing is among the issues under debate since 52-year-old Michelle Ann Dzoch died in the fire at her home.

A county investigation concluded human error was the primary cause of the delay, while a union investigation presented to county council Tuesday largely blamed staffing shortages, insufficient training and staff turnover.

Conyngham Township Supervisor Ed Whitebread said Wednesday township officials don’t plan to honor the county’s request.

The township already changed other addresses and street numbers several years ago to eliminate unnamed rural routes, and address changes are a major inconvenience to residents who must make the adjustment on their paperwork, driver’s licenses and bank checks, Whitebread said.

He also questions why the burden should fall on the township, as opposed to the borough, and said many municipalities throughout the county also have Main Streets that were never renamed.

“I really don’t think changing the name of Main Street is going to solve anything. In my opinion, what happened May 15 was the result of a training error, not the existence of Main Streets in both municipalities,” Whitebread said.

In light of the conflicting county and union reports, Councilwoman Kathy Dobash sent county 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans an email Wednesday requesting information on staffing, the number of times crews have been dispatched to the wrong location and whether there was a practice of rushing through calls as alleged in the union report.

“I do not want my communication ignored by you,” Dobash wrote to Rosencrans, who was promoted to executive director in May. “I am a Luzerne County elected official, and the public requires confidence in the leadership and services provided by Luzerne County 911.”

Council Chairman Rick Morelli said he encourages discussion about all issues that may have played a role in the dispatch error and encouraged council’s operational services committee to take the lead because 911 falls under that division. Officials in the cash-strapped county must weigh requests for additional staff against available funds, he said.

The union report said the 911 center has 58 telecommunicators, compared to 65 in 2008.

“We should always strive to be better and need to look at training, staffing and protocol, but problems could still happen no matter how much training and staff you have because there’s a human element in this,” Morelli said.

One county 911 worker was terminated over the incident, and another was suspended. The union report maintains two people took the fall when other workers and issues were involved in the handling of the dispatch.

“It’s not about who is at fault,” Morelli said. “The question is how can we make it better and prevent this from happening again.”

Operational Services Committee Chairman Rick Williams said he spoke to Rosencrans and has invited him to brief the committee on all issues impacting 911 operations, not only those linked to the May 15 fire. Rosencrans said he is preparing a report.

Rosencrans declined comment on the union report Wednesday but has addressed at least two issues raised in the union report in the past.

Public awareness

The report says more public education is warranted on the need for callers to accurately identify their locations. Rosencrans has said the 911 center launched an awareness campaign in June urging people to know their municipality.

The mass exodus of experienced telecommunicators last year also was cited in the union report.

Rosencrans has said numerous employees left because they obtained better-paying jobs as police communication officers with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Compensation for unionized workers is set in a collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the county, Rosencrans said. According to the county’s 2014 position budget, the annual compensation for telecommunicators ranges from $26,500 to $37,480.

About 450,500 calls were processed by the county 911 last year — 70 percent from cellphones, county officials have said.

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