Police, fire chiefs talk annexation

Morgantown’s police and fire chiefs were among the numerous city officials on hand at Thursday’s first public meeting on annexation.
“What the city proposed, the city never talked to us,” Fire Chief Mark Caravasos said when asked about the additional manpower and equipment the department would need.
The city’s draft annexation report states the department would have an immediate need for four firefighters and a fire engine with future needs of an unspecified number of extra engines and 15 firefighters in the long term.
At Thursday’s meeting though, Caravasos said a new station, which he said should be located at the airport, would need 24-27 firefighters, by his count. That would staff two combination fire engine/ladder trucks and a heavy rescue truck, which he said the city needs.
The department would also require two tankers to haul water if the annexation is successful, Caravasos said. The MFD does not have any tankers right now.
Over the past week, Caravasos has been out surveying the proposed areas to be brought in the city for hydrants and marking their locations, he said. The coverage is “sporadic” with some areas having great coverage, some having a little and some having none. He declined to offer specific examples.
One area targeted for annexation with zero hydrants, according to Morgantown Utility Board Spokesperson Chris Dale, is Woodland Terrace, a trailer park off of Hartman Run Road. Ashworth Landing, an apartment complex off Green Bag Road, only has one hydrant.
“Police, fire and EMS, people that go out and save lives should be available to everybody,” Caravasos said.
He described his dream fire service as a community-based metro department that doesn’t have to worry about politics or boundaries and could focus on helping people.
Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said should the annexation be successful, the new city residents could expect faster response times, especially on non-emergency calls.
He explained his department has more resources and less territory to cover than the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, which currently covers the areas targeted for annexation, can respond to some calls the sheriff’s department can’t, such as a call for a stolen cell phone.
The MPD is the state’s third largest police department and has an average response time of two-and-a-half minutes on priority calls and four minutes for all calls, he said.
In a handout for the information session, the city boasts about the department’s specialized resources that other area or regional departments don’t have. An example in the handout was the MPD’s soft interview room for sexual assault victims — which is already made available for use by any agency.
Preston is big on cooperation and he will always lend his department’s capabilities to other law enforcement in need, he said. The department has the region’s only Underwater Search and Recovery team and lends its expertise all over the state — including in the search for Aliayah Lunsford.
If annexation is successful, it will be a continual process to constantly improve patrol routes and find the most effective ways to bring the department’s preferred method of policing — community policing — into the new coverage area.
Preston said he doesn’t just look at what happened last year and make adjustments, but prefers to look at 10 years of data, find the averages and base his decisions off of that.
The annexation draft plan calls for five additional officers and a 30% increase in overtime for the police department to fund an additional two to three officers per shift. Preston said that would be a starting point but more hires would be needed. Also, not every officer would want to work overtime because of their families or just wanting time off.
Preston also said he wasn’t worried about crime rates increasing or decreasing with the extra territory — he can’t take credit for people committing a crime or not committing a crime, only what his department does after a crime has been reported.

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