By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Putting out fires.
That’s the basic purpose of both the Williamsburg Fire and the Williamsburg Police departments.
During the regular meeting of the Williamsburg City Council Monday, Fire Chief James Privett and Police Chief Wayne Bird provided activity reports for 2012.
Both departments have been busy.
Bird said the department handled more than 6,200 calls during the year.
“(Those calls) were just the ones which came from Whitley County 911,” Bird said. “That’s not counting the calls we receive through the fire department.”
He explained that several area residents call the fire department’s phone number “they’ve been accustomed to” to contact police officers.
“There’s no way to track (those calls),” Bird said.
He noted that theft and burglary calls “have increased by large numbers.”
“I expected that,” Bird said, explaining that between the increase in illegal drug usage and the sagging economy, these crimes are on the rise. He also blamed a state house bill recently passed concerning criminal suspects.
Council Member Richard Foley asked Bird to elaborate.
He said before, when officers arrested a suspect, the bail set was based on their criminal history. Now suspects “have to be a danger to themselves, society or a flight risk,” he said. “(They could) be arrested for robbery today and out on bond tomorrow.”
The report provided Monday showed the department answered more than 200 theft complaint calls, as well as 159 shoplifting calls.
On other crime-related statistics, Bird said Whitley County was ranked in the top 15 for highway fatalities.
One way WPD hopes to combat traffic fatalities and traffic safety is through a highway safety grant. The monies are earmarked for traffic enforcement, he said.
“We’ll be stepping (traffic control) up,” Bird said.
He explained officers will be handing out more speeding tickets.
“The speed is unreal in the city,” he said. “The speed is out of control, especially through school zones.”
He issued a warning to speeders driving through Williamsburg.
“We won’t be giving out warnings,” Bird said. “This is a warning to the people — they’re going to be getting tickets.”
He also discussed the sharp increase in overdose deaths. Bird said the rate has increased by 296 percent since 2010, and attributes most of those to prescription drug usage.
Education can be the key, and Bird said a D.A.R.E. program was started in the middle school.
D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons which teaches kindergarten through 12th-grade students how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug- and violence-free lives, according to its website.
Other drug-fighting tactics used by WPD include the addition of two former military dogs, Raz and Lee. Bird said both dogs were military-owned. Raz served five tours of duty, and Lee served three tours, according to Bird. One added bonus with these dogs, he said, is that both are trained bomb detectors.
Some other highlights of the report include more than 1,000 traffic stops, more than 400 suspicious vehicles or persons investigated, and more than 300 active alarms.
During April, July and November 2012, WPD saw more than 1,000 calls each month answered, according to the WPD report. He also said that Tuesdays and Wednesdays garnered the highest number of calls through the week.
Privett and the fire department stayed busy throughout the year, according to the annual summary report submitted Monday.
There were 17 fires total — six were labeled “building fires,” 10 were “structure fires,” and one was a cooking fire.
Vehicular fires, including mobile homes and campers and RVs, totaled eight — half of those were passenger vehicles.
The fire department fought 23 brush, grass, trash and other fires during the year, five of them brush fires and another five outside trash fires.
The department also assisted in 32 incidents. In the end, the WFD handled more than 170 calls in 2012.
Privett also noted training hours completed during 2012. He explained that part-time workers require 20 hours of annual refresher training, and full-timers require 100 hours of training. There were 30 training classes offered, and five of the firefighters attended more than 25 training sessions.
While WFD received no mutual aid from any city or county departments, according to Privett, there were 15 times during the year when the department assisted other volunteer fire departments. Emlyn called for assistance three times; Goldbug received mutual aid seven times; and South Whitley requested assistance three times.