Friday, September 4, 2015

Emergency management officials preparing for papal visit in Bucks

Posted: Friday, September 4, 2015
Pope Francis isn’t visiting Bucks County as part of his historic two-day trip to Philadelphia later this month, but local first responders are preparing as though he is.
Locally, final public safety plans are still on the drafting board while officials await better information about SEPTA rail pass ticket sales — which have been slower than expected — and the number of high-occupancy vehicles registered to attend and expected to pass through Bucks towns on the journey to Philadelphia.
Absent that information, though, preliminary emergency response plans include opening First Aid stations and using all-terrain vehicles, along with expected parking restrictions and road closures, officials said.
Heavy traffic is expected along major highways countywide, but especially in Bensalem, Bristol Township, Tullytown, Warminster and Middletown where rail stations are located. More traffic increases the likelihood of accidents, as well as slower fire and rescue response times, officials said.
“We are advising people to carpool or drop off visitors to the (Cornwells Heights) train station,” Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo said. "We are expecting the worst when it comes to traffic, and we want to do our best to control it.”
Bristol Township encompasses several major traffic arteries to I-95, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Burlington Bristol Bridge and also has one of the five regional rail stations in Bucks operating during the papal weekend. As a result, its preliminary emergency response plan anticipates potential gridlock traffic, Bristol Township Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Dippolito said.
If heavy traffic is anticipated along Route 13, Dippolito plans to open a First-Aid triage station in the St. Thomas Aquinas banquet hall, which is across the street from the Croydon train station, starting at 6 a.m. to midnight Sept. 26 and 27. The station will be staffed by an emergency medical technician, paramedics and, if possible, a doctor, the entire weekend, Dippolito said.
In Bucks County, ambulance and rescue squads are also expected to position staffed ambulances at the train stations throughout the weekend during the peak travel hours, according to local officials.
Two hybrid all-terrain vehicles will be assigned to the Bristol Township Police Department and Dippolito has borrowed two more that will be used to transport people if emergency vehicles are blocked by heavy traffic. He has requested electronic traffic sign boards from the county to let driver's know what is ahead.
At least one emergency management official will staff the township’s command center all weekend to monitor traffic and weather. In the event of gridlock, Dippolito said he has identified eight potential access points to I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike that can be accessed by firetruck tower ladders or on foot.
All Bristol Township fire stations will have crews in station at peak traffic time, Dippolito said. Additional rescue squad medic units will be staged at the Croydon Fire Company and the Edgely Fire Company to protect both ends of the township in the event of traffic gridlock.
A final planning meeting for Bristol Township is set for the Monday before the papal weekend visit.
“People have no idea the potential impact this is going to have,” Dippolito said. “There has never been anything like this. There has never been a traffic prediction like this.”
Middletown plans to finalize its emergency response plan for the papal weekend two weeks before the visit, Emergency Management Coordinator James McGuire said. The Tuesday night before the visit, McGuire will be holding a tabletop exercise with first responders to run different scenarios.
“Middletown’s process that we are following is the same thing we’d do for any special VIP that comes in. If there is a big event that comes into town we run through the same process for the most part,” McGuire added. “This is a state of preparation. That is really what it is. We want to be responsible to our community.”
The Langhorne-Middletown Fire Company plans to have full crews manning both its stations during the papal weekend, Chief Frank Farry said. The fire departments' main role will be helping local emergency medical services.
All hands will be on deck at the Penndel-Middletown Emergency Squad starting at 5 a.m. Saturday before the papal visit, said Hugh Cooperman, chief of operations for the squad. All 14 full-time paramedics and EMTs will be working.
Another 15 volunteers have indicated they’ll make themselves available, he added. Also 10 servicemen who are certified first responders out of Fort Dix in Burlington County, New Jersey, have volunteers to help, Cooperman said.
The Penndel-Middletown squad typically handles 10 to 30 calls in a regular weekend, Cooperman said.
Five ambulances will be strategically placed throughout the township in the event of anticipated traffic congestion including one at the William Penn Fire Company Bristol-Oxford Valley Road substation.
The squad will also run a triage center out of the Middletown emergency medical services command center at the Barix Clinic parking lot at the Oxford Valley Mall, Cooperman said. He has been promised three special all-terrain vehicles. An advanced life support ambulance will also be stationed there, as well as a special trailer, designed for mass casualty incidents, that will have cots, urinals and bedpans, he said.
Another special all-terrain vehicle will be stationed at the I-95 entrance in Middletown off East Lincoln Highway along with a county sheriff, an emergency medic and firefighter in the event of an emergency on the highway.
The squad members and employees underwent special triage training last month to refresh their skills; the squad has mass casualty training twice a year.
“We’ve never had anything to this scale,” Cooperman said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@calkins.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia

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