MAHONING TWP. — Township Fire Chief Leslie Young said Wednesday that when a tornado warning was in effect and at least four emergencies were happening at once on May 15, she had trouble reaching Columbia and Montour counties’ 911 communications center on both low-band and high-band radios.
When she tried to get a dispatcher to activate the tornado warning siren in the township, it never went off, she said at the township supervisors meeting. That especially was upsetting to Supervisor T.S. Scott, a U.S. Army veteran who said he has worked about every kind of major emergency.
“I’ve seen the difference 15 seconds can make,” he said.
Young was at work at Geisinger when the call came in for the tractor-trailer overturned by high winds on the Danville-Riverside Bridge. Because the crash was in Riverside’s jurisdiction, Mahoning’s East End Fire Company wasn’t needed and could divert to the downed wire on Red Lane.
At the same time, though, Young tried to call in on her portable radio about a report of smoke in Geisinger’s Henry Hood Center for Research.
“I couldn’t contact county, probably because I was on my portable,” Young said.
She said the portables don’t work most of the time when trying to contact the county communications center.
She then also tried to reach the 911 center on low-band and high-band radios about a reported fire in Geisinger’s nursing school but couldn’t get through. When she did talk to someone there, she was told she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get through.
Young said she also tried calling the non-emergency number but did not call the 911 emergency number because the center was overwhelmed with calls at the time. She said emergency responders will soon switch to high-band radios.
Young also said that on May 23, the Bloomsburg Fire Department was dispatched first for a possible structure fire in Mahoning Township.
Montour County Commissioner Chairman Ken Holdren told the supervisors the commissioners were investigating the issues.
Supervisor T.S. Scott read a response from Fred Hunsinger, director of the consolidated 911 center, who stated officials were looking into the problems. He wrote that the dispatcher said she activated the tornado warning siren.
Young said the siren will be tested, though it has gone off since then.
Scott said Hunsinger wrote, “We did the best we could with what we had to work with.”
Scott added, “This was not a big event.”
Supervisor Chairman Bill Lynn said, “This sounds like a staffing issue.”
Township Police Chief Sean McGinley, a member of the 911 center advisory board, said there has yet to be a meeting. The centers consolidated one year ago.
Young said residents can call the emergency management agency office to register their phone numbers to receive warnings in case of bad storms.