South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Public Safety officials take questions from the Zone 3 Council

 

Last updated 2/9/2022 at 8:32pm



The Jan. 27 Zoom monthly meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC) featured news of new hires, crime updates, and more.

Z3PSC President Liz Style served as meeting facilitator.

It began with Lee Schmidt introducing himself as the city's new acting public safety director. He previously served as the assistant director of operations and administration in Public Safety and has been nominated by Mayor Ed Gainey as the public safety director.

He also worked for 20 years as a paramedic in the suburbs.

Mr. Schmidt said he would return to a future Z3PSC meeting to talk more as he had another meeting that evening.

Another new hire is Angela Brundage as the disruptive properties coordinator. The position was included in the city's 2022 budget.

Reverend Eileen O. Smith, director of the South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace (SPCP), reported there is a new chaplain for the South Pittsburgh Peacemakers, an initiative of the SPCP: Rev. Justine Jones.

She also reported she has a new executive assistant: Stacy Randall.

There is also a fourth Peacemaker: Rick Bigelow, which completes the team.

"We'll be able to save more lives," Rev. Smith said.

The SPCP is a conglomerate of volunteers and agencies committed to the prevention of violence in the South Pittsburgh communities.

 The next speaker was Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Dr. Darryl Jones, who is the city's new emergency management coordinator. 

He has served as head of the Bureau of Fire since 2007, and will continue in that role with his new appointment.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said Dr. Jones is the longest-tenured fire chief in the U.S. The average is three to five years for a tenured chief.

"You're truly one of the finest," Mr. Kraus said.

Dr. Jones, who has a Ph.D. in public safety with a specialty of emergency management, also worked for 20 years in the Aliquippa fire department.

In his brief fire report, Dr. Jones said the majority of those at fires are firefighters, who are highly trained, skilled, and motivated.

The bureau is able to determine the cause of fires about 80 percent of the time, which is a high amount, he said.

For a one-alarm fire, there are 27 firefighters on the scene. A two-alarm fire will have 39 firefighters, or 12 more than a one-alarm fire.

An attendee said a fire lane on Kirk Ave. is blocked due to parking. It was a real concern when a condemned house on nearby Spencer Ave., and known to attract squatters, caught on fire.

She has called 311 about the blocked fire lane, but nothing happens, she said. Additionally, snow plows cannot get down the street with the parking on both sides.

Dr. Jones said to call the police about parking issues. If you call 911 it could be towed, he said.

To a question about a fire hydrant laying on the ground in the Hilltop, he said to email him (Darryl.Jones@pittsburghpa.gov).

"We can't fix it if we don't know about it," he said.

Next, Sarah Kinter, of the Dept. of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI), reported on code enforcement and condemned buildings.

She said there is no code regulation to inspect buildings on a regular basis. Instead, they are done on an as-needed basis.

Complaints to 311 about problem structures are routed to PLI.

There are more than 2,000 condemned buildings in the city. Conditions range from as little as no water to as big as fire damage, she said.

In a demolition the city does not gain ownership. The owner keeps the property, but it is liened. However, most demolitions occur on property with no owner or an owner who is deceased.

A demolition is for the "worst of the worst," she said. It costs about $55,000 to take a property down, with costs potentially higher if the root cause is a landslide or catastrophic fire.

There are two funding sources for demolitions: one, for emergency demolitions, and the other, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds.

In 2021, there were 85 demolitions, with $1.5 million from emergency funds, and $2.5 million from CDBG funds.

To an attendee's comment that a property stands there until it is ready to fall down, and the neighborhood is stuck with a "raggedy" home, Ms. Kinter said PLI must focus on "the worst of the worst."

Roy Blankenship, of the Hilltop Alliance, said the nonprofit organization is compiling a list of properties that are fire hazards. The list will be submitted to 311 to inform the Fire Dept.

The Hilltop Alliance is also sending letters to the property owners to let them know of the dangers. A particular problem in the winter is that squatters take residence and fires result.

A South Side Flats resident asked about the process to the magistrate for the owners of hazardous properties.

Ms. Kinter said PLI issues three notices of violation. After that, a criminal violation goes to the magistrate. Fines are sought for those not making an effort to change.

But it cannot be brought to court if the owner is dead, she said.

Mr. Blankenship said if outreach is needed, the Hilltop Alliance will work to help out PLI and get in touch with owners. The Hilltop Alliance has programs to help owners make repairs, he said.

An attendee, who said she is surrounded by condemned houses, commented it is "shocking" that PLI has only three inspectors in light of 80 to 85 demolitions a year.

"There isn't enough manpower," she said.

Mr. Kraus said he would talk with Ms. Kinter and state Rep. Jessica Benham, 36th District, about creating more revenue.

Next, in reports, Ms. Style said she met with Zone 3 Commander John Fisher, who wants to hold meet-and-greets with community groups, and allow resident ride-alongs in police cars.

Commander Fisher said he oversees 16 to 17 neighborhoods in Zone 3. He will speak to any neighborhood group that asks him to visit to explain what he and his officers do in a typical day.

If he cannot make it, one of his officers will attend.

"It is the busiest zone in the city for most calls for service," he said.

The ride-along for residents would occur during part of a 10-hour shift. Residents must meet criteria, like a background check to show there is no criminal history.

In a brief crime update, there was a fatal shooting recently in the 800 block of Loyal Way. A woman on Reifert St. was murdered by her boyfriend.

Commander Fisher said if a resident wants to carry a gun, they should speak to him about all the rules and regulations.

Ask yourself, he said, "Can you shoot someone?" Otherwise, the other person will take the gun and shoot you, he said.

He planned to meet with Carrick High School officials about the assaults occurring there. Youngsters are also assaulting businesses in the high school area, he said.

He also met with Rev. Smith and Richard Carrington, of the South Pittsburgh Peacemakers, to address issues.

Regarding the complaint about parking in the fire line on Kirk Ave., he said he did not see any 311 calls. Don't be afraid to call 311, he said.

An attendee asked about the Carson St. safety lane which has not been set up on weekends lately.

The commander said the police were tagging when the detail was on, and that it would begin again when the weather breaks. In the meantime, officers will be sent if the need arises.

Mr. Kraus said the street is so narrow there that the EMS and officers could not get through in an emergency. For that reason, it needs clear at all times.

Commander Fisher said he cannot assign an officer there every evening, but would do his best to send someone to ticket.

Mr. Kraus said the safety lane has been there for five years, and that he and the commander would discuss the situation.

 In her brief update, Rev. Smith said she continues to apply for grants for SPCP, and with the help of Rep. Benham.

She also reported SPCP hired a media coordinator. Violence preventions will be posted on Facebook and the SPCP website.

Next, CeaseFirePA Western Pennsylvania manager Josh Fleitman delivered firearms updates. CeaseFirePA is the largest and longest-serving anti-gun violence group in Pennsylvania.

He reported that the state Senate passed House bill 979 which discourages local jurisdictions from attempting to regulate firearms. Individuals and groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) could sue local governments under the bill, and the municipalities would have to pay if they lost.

He said Governor Wolf plans to veto the bill.

On the topic of guns and children, Mr. Fleitman said a common way youngsters get guns is if they are in the family home and not secured. He wants legislation passed for safe storage.

A petition is available asking school districts to talk to parents about safe storage.

For more information on CeaseFirePA, visit: https://www.ceasefirepa.org/about-us/ .

The meeting concluded with Rep. Benham reporting that a Zoom meeting on speakeasies would be held at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 15, with more information to follow.

She also reported there will be a blood drive at the IBEW building on South Side from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. on March 2.

The next Z3PSC meeting will be on Feb. 24. The 2022 schedule begins with all meetings held via Zoom.

 

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