Wyoming County 911 director Jeff Porter (left) explains the variety of technology installed in the county’s new mobile command unit. Also celebrating the official unveiling of Command 66 are (continuing from left) commissioners Judy Mead, Tom Henry and Mike Stabinsky and deputy 911 director Frank Miller.
Photos and story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Wyoming County 911 and Emergency Management officially unveiled their new mobile response unit at the county’s Emergency Management Center in Tunkhannock Township on Tuesday. The vehicle has already been tested via assistance to local fire companies and law enforcement, and its handlers are excited about its potential.
The 2019 Chevy Suburban was purchased locally through a combination of natural gas impact fee (Act 13) funds and several grants at a cost of about $85,000. Working closely with Amp Global Strategies, 911 director Jeff Porter and deputy director Frank Miller designed “Command 66” to be compatible with the 911 center itself.
Mobile response units in adjacent counties have similar features but are not as compact as Command 66, Porter explained. Luzerne and Susquehanna counties, for example, house their units in trailers, and Lackawanna County retrofitted a tour bus.
“It is more versatile because of the type of vehicle it is,” said Miller.
“We went for a smaller footprint with a compact 4-wheel drive that we can get into smaller rural areas in the county,” Porter related.
Wyoming County commissioners Mike Stabinksy, Judy Mead and Tom Henry were on hand, as was Wyoming County EMA director Gene Dziak and several representatives of local fire and ambulance companies. According to Mead, at least $150,000 was saved by Porter, Miller and their staff doing most of the work themselves.
“Other counties have been impressed by what we’ve done,” Mead stated.
“It wasn’t a burden to our taxpayers,” Henry noted.
The need for such a vehicle was realized in the wake of the 2017 fire at the Procter & Gamble warehouse in Washington Township. The three-alarm blaze involved response from firefighters from five counties. Afterwards, representatives from the individual units indicated that communication with and accountability for those inside the 40-acre building was difficult.
“The commanders struggled to keep track of personnel,” Porter recalled. With the new unit’s four mobile radios and in-band repeater, such communication problems should no longer occur and, Porter added, it will be easier to keep track of apparatus en route to the scene. The information is also relayed in real time back to the Emergency Management Center.
“It’s another great tool in the toolbox,” said Dziak. “When we get into the big ones, which we will, just to have the CAD (computer assisted dispatcher) to document everything in this day and age is critical.” The information will also make debriefing more efficient, he added.
In addition to being an incredible resource for events within the county, Command 66 will be useful for multi-county emergencies. A large-screen monitor that can be extended from the rear of the vehicle allows handlers to see the images captured by the vehicle companion drone, also purchased through a grant. The set-up affords emergency response teams a bird’s-eye view of situations that would be potentially dangerous for personnel to try to access on foot or impossible to reach via vehicles.
Porter gave a demonstration of the drone, flying as much as 400 feet above the Emergency Management Center as it captured both full-color and infra-red images, the latter a potential tool for finding a lost person in a wooded area at night.
Command 66 and its drone have already proven useful in helping to recreate fatal and near-fatal crash scenes for local and state police and to find a parole escapee in the Nicholson area. Dziak related that the drone was used to monitor ice flow on the Susquehanna River during the search for a homicide victim in Falls.
Porter and Miller (above) prepare the drone for takeoff.
Wyoming County commissioners Judy Mead and Mike Stabinsky (seen at right in reflection) check out infrared images from the drone.