911 Center deals with high volume of calls during snow storms
Gary Penner clears sidewalks packed with ice covered snow in Hagerstown Thursday morning. (By Yvette May/Staff Photographer / December 27, 2012)
Kevin Lewis, director at the Washington County Division of Fire and Emergency Services, said Thursday that 122 of the 911 center’s 995 inbound calls on Wednesday were for traffic accidents that involved injuries or property damage.
There was no breakdown showing how many of the other calls were for disabled vehicles or minor accidents that didn’t involve officers.
“We basically brought in additional personnel,” Lewis said Thursday morning. “We actually went out to pick up some of the staff using four-wheel drive vehicles.”
Lewis said the 911 center averaged 60 calls per hour on Wednesday, compared to 35 calls an hour a week earlier.
Maryland State Police also called in extra personnel to help with the high volume of calls.
First Sgt. Kevin Lewis, who is no relation to the Kevin Lewis at Emergency Services, said the state police barrack in Hagerstown called five troopers to start their shifts early, bumping up the available work force to nine at the peak of the storm. In addition, he said, the dayshift was held over to work late.
“It did become overwhelming with the number of calls we had,” 1st Sgt. Lewis said. “We try to prepare the best we can, but we have a finite number of personnel.”
The Hagerstown barrack processed 68 property damage accidents, and 16 personal injury collisions on Wednesday, according to Washington County Emergency Services statistics. By 1st Sgt. Lewis’ account, troopers responded to about 100 accidents on Wednesday.
Many of those accidents occurred on Interstates 70 and 81, 1st Sgt. Lewis said.
Interstate 68 near Sideling Hill was backed up because cars and trucks were having a hard time getting traction on the steep roadway, and was shut down from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. from Hancock west to the Allegany County line. Eastbound on I-68 was closed in the same area at some point in the afternoon.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to 20 property damage collisions and five personal injury collisions, according to emergency services.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office Deputy 1st Class Scott Buskirk said he helped state police work accidents on I-68 and I-70 during the storm.
He said he responded to multiple accidents between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those accidents, he said, included mostly fender benders, vehicles in ditches and tractor-trailers that were jackknifed on the highway.
“It was pretty rough,” Buskirk said. “The traffic was a big factor. With all the traffic, the (salt) trucks couldn’t get anything done.”
He said Wednesday marked the second worst snow storm that he has seen in his 12 years with the sheriff’s office. The worst day, he said, occurred in January 2011, when a storm snarled traffic on I-70 in Washington County for about 12 hours.
Deputy 1st Class Jeremey Kuhnke said he saw an accident occur at the intersection of Halfway and Massey boulevards on Wednesday, when a sport-utility vehicle slid about 50 feet and struck another vehicle.
“It was the typical SUV driver who thought he was invincible in the snow,” Kuhnke said.
He said he only handled two accidents on Wednesday because he was tied up doing administrative work.