Polk: Organizations must send requests for public safety assistance sooner

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 12, 2018

COLUMBUS — Polk County plans to begin asking organizations requesting emergency personnel for event coverage to submit requests weeks in advance, after the Tryon International Equestrian Center asked, on short notice, for the county to provide seven fire trucks and more than 20 personnel for a recent activity.

Polk County commissioners met Monday and heard from emergency management director and fire marshal Bobby Arledge, who said it is time for a policy. In the past few weeks, the county has had a couple of issues with prearranged standbys, which the county was not given adequate time to prepare, Arledge said.

“Like an event we had Saturday, we were notified Wednesday,” Arledge said. “When you don’t have time to prepare, I think it’s time to do something about it. We are wanting to move forward with a policy and a fee schedule to go along with that policy to help us prepare for these free-range standbys that we are getting more and more throughout the county.”

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Arledge said it is not fair to county staff and volunteers to wait until the last minute and find out an organization needs five fire trucks and three ambulances.

County Manager Marche Pittman said public safety standby for events like the ones scheduled at TIEC are paid for by the facility. He said it is a public misunderstanding that county employees are working these events on county time, and that is not the case.

“It is imperative that we do not allow public safety professionals to be pulled from their duties protecting Polk County citizens to cover events, like the ones at Tryon International Equestrian Center,” Pittman said.

Pittman told commissioners he has instructed all public safety professionals that directly work for him, including EMS, emergency management and 911 communications, to ensure that the county’s standbys do not impact the level of service they provide to the citizens of Polk County.

“In other words, we should not pull people off of their duties to cover any events — period,” Pittman said.

Arledge said he would like to require a three-week notice for personnel and equipment. He said when TIEC requested seven fire trucks and around 20 personnel on short notice, the county just did not have it.

Pittman said the new policy will require a three-week notice prior to events and an additional fee if personnel and equipment is requested two weeks before.

Pittman also said the policy needs to include conversations with the sheriff’s office.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said the county has historically dealt with covering events for  nonprofits, and knew which ones were coming up. Now, for-profit organizations are contacting leaders, and at the last minute.

Gasperson said it is time for a policy.

Arledge said he has researched other county policies for similar events, and there is a set fee for law enforcement, fire and EMS services.

Commissioners came to a consensus for Arledge to bring a draft policy back for approval soon.