Thursday, December 06, 2012

Light-Up Night: The Shadow Fireworks

Wow, it's December already.

The Thanksgiving weekend came and went quietly and uneventfully. Leslie, Gianna and I were the beneficiaries of a neighbor's hospitality for holiday dinner. 

That's how it seems to go, what with working weekends and tending to avoid participating in Black Friday, otherwise known (at least to me) as the high holy day of The First Church of My Stuff. I saw at least one Internet meme over that weekend that brought this point home very clearly.

This past Friday evening I headed to the library to review some long-awaited research materials for an upcoming post, and encountered the traffic and crowds associated with Sewickley's annual light-up night

The library was bustling with activity associated with the event as well. Staff were setting up tables for kids to do a craft project. Sewickley Herald reporter Bobby Cherry was there as part of their coverage of the festivities.

When I left just before 6, I noticed crowds making their way into the event areas along Broad Street, via the closed section at the intersection with Thorn. There were clearly marked detour signs posted, along with dedicated signs for a detour around the celebration for those needing to access Heritage Valley Sewickley Hospital.

That's when I heard the helicopter. 

Thinking that it was perhaps more than coincidental that a helicopter could be circling the village at that time - perhaps a news chopper to add to the hype surrounding the festivities - I scanned the skies for a spotlight or other visual cue. Not finding any, I started scanning the airwaves, specifically the public safety and aviation bands, for some telltale activity.

Finding some, I headed across the river to find a STAT Medevac aircraft at the landing zone adjacent to Valley Ambulance headquarters, with Moon Township VFC standing by. An ambulance had just left with the flight crew, headed toward Sewickley in bridge traffic that was backed up almost to Coraopolis, and through the village detour to the hospital previously mentioned. It took roughly 10 minutes, with lights and sirens, for them to travel the roughly 1 1/2 miles to the hospital. 

As I wrote in February, the practice of flying patients out of Heritage Valley Sewickley is an infrequent, complex, and frankly perplexing exercise. This is taking into consideration the underlying reasons for using that mode of transportation (usually speed), the proximity of Sewickley to Pittsburgh, and the ready availability of ground transportation. 

After about 45 minutes, the flight crew was making their way back to the aircraft with their patient, and shortly afterward lifted off for a Pittsburgh hospital with what sounded like someone with a cardiac problem.

It's likely that the ambulance committed to that relay back and forth from the aircraft could have had the patient in Pittsburgh in considerably less time, and for a lot less money. Finding out how and why this happens is near impossible, what with privacy laws and stakeholders less than willing to speak to anyone about the underlying processes and politics of our so-called "non-profit" health care system. 

All one can do is try to be an educated health care consumer. 

This wasn't the only thing happening in Sewickley during light-up night. When the fireworks started, the numerous police officers deployed throughout the village were alerted to a report of a male seeking psychiatric evaluation who had run from the Heritage Valley Sewickley ER. A description was aired, and hospital security was seen in the area of Broad and Centennial assisting in the search. It's unknown if the man was ever located or turned back up. 

Sewickley Borough Manager Kevin Flannery, contacted today, dismissed the incident as more commonplace than it might actually seem to be. He estimated that 5 to 7 people run from the ER a year. This makes one wonder even more about another health care factor  relegated to the shadows, perhaps deliberately - the propensity of mental illness in our society, often exacerbated by substance abuse. 

My primary purpose for speaking with Mr. Flannery was to get a sense of the emergency planning contingencies in place for an event that draws a large amount of traffic and several thousand people to a few square blocks of shopping district. I was impressed with what I heard.

Mr. Flannery cited joint planning efforts by the Police Department, Cochran Hose Company, and his office to assure that emergency resources are able to quickly respond into the event area, and that people can be moved quickly from the areas if needed. He spoke about assuring a minimum 18-feet wide clearance to allow emergency vehicle ingress and egress to and from key entry and exit points to the event. Cochran Hose volunteers also assured that the fire station was fully staffed and ready.  

This was put to the test in recent years as well as this year, when a vehicle was reported to be on fire near the intersection of Blackburn Road and McCready Way. Firefighters found that the car had just overheated.

Other reports included some who had enjoyed perhaps a little too much holiday cheer. One woman wanted officers to find a friend that she had become separated from. One man was arrested near the borough building for public intoxication. 

And in the 'ignorance is bliss' department, several reports of loud pounding noises were made by borough residents..during the fireworks display.

Planning for these types of special events is often accomplished by emergency managers and local governments through the use of the National Incident Management System, or NIMS. There is specialized online training available through the FEMA NIMS website to address these events, defined by FEMA as "a nonroutine activity within a community that brings together a large number of people".

Mr. Flannery expressed satisfaction that the event was so well attended, but also stated that some merchants complained that foot traffic within their shops was less than expected, owing to how nice it was outside. I'm sure someone will get right on that problem for next year...

Mr. Flannery also expressed gratitude to Heritage Valley for allowing use of their parking garage during the event. He also stated that the pleasant conditions made walking from the parking lots at War Memorial Park more amenable to attendees.

As far as attendance at these types of events, Mr. Flannery also cited the annual Harvest Festival and Memorial Day observance as examples where their efforts in planning and communications have paid off.

I asked him about potential contingencies where attendance numbers would possibly require the use of overflow parking in more remote locations, with shuttle buses into the village. Mr. Flannery stated there are areas where such a contingency could be implemented if needed, but he also hoped that attendance would not get too far beyond the 7 to 9,000 that these events have been typically drawing in recent years.

That's a good perspective - not necessarily wanting too much of a good thing. Perhaps that's a message that all of us can identify with. 

May the holidays bring you joy and peace. 

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