9-1-1 signs should aid emergency services

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 5/3/00.

The frustration of being lost can grate on anyone's nerves. Imagine the feeling of being behind the wheel of an ambulance, fire truck, or police car and not being able to find the right address. Knowing someone needs your help but not being able to get there as quickly as possible.

Steve Stang, the coordinator for the Paynesville Area Ambulance Service, shook his head while recalling ambulance runs where precious time was wasted as the crew searched for the right address. "How many times?" he asked himself quietly.

Of course, the wait is even worse at the other end. As someone clings to life, awaiting medical help that is unnecessarily delayed. The trend in ambulatory care in the past 30 years has been geared towards faster response times.

But emergency services can't help if they can't locate the correct address.

An unresponsive infant appeared to be choking. The mother called 911 and an ambulance was dispatched immediately. The address was near Lake Koronis, but the crew searched for minutes, while within a city block of the home, for the unmarked residence.

Luckily, the mother remained calm while waiting, and actually resolved the situation by the time the ambulance crew found and negotiated the long wooded driveway that led to the house.

That story has a happy ending, but avoiding situations like this is why local emergency services enthusiastically greeted the recent Paynesville Township decision to install uniform 911 signs throughout the township. The township board of supervisors unanimously approved participating in the county-wide initiative at their meeting on Monday, April 24.

"(The signs) will definitely help us," said fire chief Jim Freilinger. The fire department's rescue squad goes out in tandem with the ambulance on most medical calls, which can be the hardest to find. Smoke usually makes finding fires easier. But the most damage can be avoided if fires are found in their infancy, before massive smoke plumes or the glow of flames makes locating it easy.

"It would make our job easier," agreed Paynesville Police Chief Tony Schmitt. "There's no doubt." Schmitt said the local police knew just about where everybody lived years ago, but that's no longer the case.

Stang, who has served on the ambulance corps for 16 years, half as its coordinator, said a large part of the ambulance corps' training is spent reading maps and deciding on routes. Their maps are updated monthly by Stearns County. But the effectiveness of this training is limited, Stang said, by the ability to locate the actual residence. "We can be sitting right in front of a driveway and not know it's the residence," Stang explained.

All three local emergency services agreed that residences around lakes can be particularly troublesome. Lakes have seasonal residents who may not have a mailbox at their residence and, consequently, might not even know their 911 address. Lakes also have curvy, irregular roads.

9-1-1 sign program
Stang, who serves on two county-wide committees for emergency services, said the county has been working on the 911 sign program for several years. Stearns County already has an enhanced 911 system that gives the address as soon as a call is made to 911.

Marvin Klug, emergency services director for Stearns County, said the county is the 26th in the state to have a 911 sign program. At the annual meetings in March, 25 of the 34 townships in the county agreed to participate in the program.

The signs will be six inches high and 18 inches long. They will need their own pole, so they can be placed uniformly at the end of each driveway.

The county will pick up half the tab of the signs, which cost just over $8 each. By negotiating for the signs on a county-wide basis, the signs were less expensive because of the larger volume.

Township supervisors John Atwood, Warren Nehring, and Don Pietsch examined the 1000 tax parcels in Paynesville Township and eliminated those without residences. Their list contains over 800 residences that need a 911 sign.

The total cost to the township should be around $3,500. New and replacement signs, though, will cost more than the original signs that are ordered in bulk.

Stearns County expects to have their signs made in the first part of August. By approving the program, Paynesville Township remained third among the townships in Stearns County to receive the signs. That means the signs could arrive here in late August and be in place yet this fall.

At the township's annual meeting in March, the issue of privacy was one concern raised about the signs. Privacy is a reason that people move to the township in the first place, went the argument, and the signs infringe on that.

Freilinger, Schmitt, and Stang all said a side benefit of the signs will be that other deliveries and services will have an easier time finding rural residences, which may please some but further worry those concerned about their privacy.

At the annual meeting, a privacy-loving citizen was even more concerned to learn that Sentence to Serve crews from the county would be used to install the signs.

Schmitt said burglars do not normally search for targets by address. "They're driving down the road, looking for easy marks," he said.

The best deterrent to burglaries, according to Schmitt, is an alarm system. There have been no burglaries on houses with alarms in the past two years, he said.

"I think the benefits (of the signs) far outweigh the risks," Schmitt said.

The township will only be installing the signs. The township could have made the signs mandatory through an ordinance, but opted to let each property owner decide to leave it or take it down.

Stang said he understood privacy concerns, but stressed the sign's importance. "The signs should stay where the county puts them," he said. "We want them in uniform spots so we know that sign goes with a particular driveway."

The need for uniformity means the signs will be held by an extra post at the end of each driveway. Mailboxes aren't always next to the driveway.

This uniformity should help the emergency services, but means property owners could have an extra obstacle when mowing.

It's also a reason why Sentence to Serve crews, under supervision of the sheriff's department, will install the signs. The Sentence to Serve crews will do the work at no cost to the township.

A suggestion was made to the township board to let property owners erect the sign at their residence. The suggestion was rejected on the grounds that uniformity would undoubtedly be lost.

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