By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Fire, EMS and Animal Control heads offer advice to So. Side Slopes residents


March 17, 2009

The heads of the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau, Emergency Medical Services, and Animal Control Bureau were the featured speakers at the March 10 meeting of the South Sides Slopes Neighborhood Association.

The first speaker, Gerald Akrie, said after 16 years with Animal Control, he was promoted to supervisor last year.

Among the services of its animal control agents are to capture stray animals, assist in pet/owner recovery, resolve neighbor disputes over animals, assist the elderly and physically challenged with animal concerns, capture state mandated wildlife, and more.

The bureau is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.  An on-call service operates from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Under its trap program, a resident, for a $40 deposit, may lease a trap for two weeks.  The money is refunded when the trap is returned. The bureau will also service traps purchased by residents. 

To a question about a dead possum on the road, Mr. Akrie said to call for removal.  The bureau employs two truck drivers whose sole responsibility is to canvas the streets for road kill, and remove dead house pets.

An attendee asked what happens once he catches someone's cat on his property, and contacts the bureau.  Cats, he said, can ruin yards and property.

Mr. Akrie said a cat, by law, must have an identification collar or tag.  Mr. Akrie will contact the owner, who will be cited for allowing the cat to roam.  Fines start at $100.

The bureau does not euthanize dogs or cats.

To a question about a neighbor's house which is not maintained, raising fears of rodents, Mr. Akrie said to call the county Health Department and the Bureau of Building Inspection.

As to the biggest raccoon he ever saw — another question — Mr. Akrie said it was about 35 pounds.  He has even seen raccoons go after pit bulls, he said.

Next, Darryl Jones, chief of the Fire Bureau, said five children were lost in fires in 2007, and 10 people, including three children, in 2008.

Most fire deaths are of children under age 14 and seniors.

To combat that, the bureau has instituted programs aimed at children and seniors.

One such program, called "Remembering When," educates seniors on the hazards of fires and slip/fall accidents.

Another, called "Wrist Watch," teaches grades kindergarten through 6 about all kinds of safety.  Beginning in September, Pittsburgh Public School children will learn safety one hour a month as part of the health curriculum.

Mr. Jones has an appointment to meet with teachers in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese about Wrist Watch.  If there is agreement, the program will be instituted in the diocese's 85 elementary schools.

In the "Wiz Kid" program, children in grades 3 to 5 will be provided with items — like a hammer to smash a window, and a whistle to blow — should they be trapped in their homes by a fire.

To a question about smoke detectors, Mr. Jones said the bureau will provide and install free ones with lithium batteries that last 10 years.

Residents should call 311 to request the service.  The limit is one smoke detector per resident.

To a question about the narrow Slopes streets, Mr. Jones said while they are a problem for the fire vehicles, "we find ways to work around it."  New drivers do practice-runs on the streets to get a feel for the challenges, he said.

Regarding carbon dioxide, which attendees expressed as a concern, Mr. Jones said some signs of carbon dioxide poisoning are the flu and constant headaches.  Carbon dioxide detectors should be purchased and installed.

The final speaker was Chief Robert J. McCaughan of the EMS, who reiterated what Mr. Jones said about home detectors: that smoke and carbon dioxide detectors are "two ways to help yourself."

He said that recently the EMS responded to a call in which the person was having headaches.  The carbon dioxide levels in the home were "astronomical," he said.

In 2008, the EMS responded to Slopes' calls 370 times, of which 283 were for medical reasons.   The number of calls in which someone fell in the home were 32.

The EMS offers limited CPR/AED training to community groups.

One of its programs is called "Envelope of Life," in which participants are asked to fill out a form for each resident in their homes containing vital information, such as medications taken.

The information is put in a sleeve and attached to the refrigerator with a magnet.  An emblem placed on the front door alerts EMS personnel to the envelope to alleviate any medical uncertainty in times of crisis.

The bureau also offers a "child seat safety" program.  Residents should bring seats to the station, where they will be inspected and checked for proper installation.  If old, the seat will be replaced for free.   To schedule an appointment, call 412-255-2450.

The bureau is also active in senior centers on the South Side, such as conducting blood pressure screenings and more.

Mr. McCaughan said that sometimes response times are hampered by parking problems on the Slopes.  Residents should call 911 if they see such a potential situation arising due to illegal parking.

The average response time in the Slopes is seven minutes.

He said people call 911 for an ambulance for an array of stupid reasons, such as a sore muscle.

"You know what an emergency is.  That's when we expect you to call," he said.

To a question as to whether Slopes residents have a choice of which hospital to be taken to, Mr. McCaughan said in times of snow emergencies or a plethora of calls, patients are taken to the nearest hospital.   Otherwise, one's wishes are honored.


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