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Emergency center continues work, will ‘scale back’ June 1

  • STRAHAN

  • HAIGH

  • Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner talks with Greenfield Police Lt. William Gordon, left, and Alex Cooley of the Greenfield Fire Department at the Emergency Operations Center in March. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/22/2020 3:29:43 PM
Modified: 5/22/2020 3:29:30 PM

GREENFIELD — As the city sees a leveling of COVID-19 cases, its Emergency Operations Center, operating in the John Zon Community Center since March 23, will be scaling back June 1, but not closing just yet.

Greenfield Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Robert Strahan said as life goes back to as normal as possible throughout the city, including at the Fire Station, the Emergency Operations Center will be shifting almost entirely to the health side of the response.

“We have to maintain the health response as the command center becomes a limited operation,” Strahan said. “As long as we’re in a state of emergency, we’ll keep the structure in place in some capacity — we’re talking about that right now — and we’ll have daily contact with the state and will continue to receive supplies.”

Supplies will most likely be sent to the fire and police stations as opposed to the center.

“We’ll still be coordinating responses, but it will be done in a different way,” he said.

Eventually, the building will reopen to the public as a community/senior center, Strahan said, though that will be based on the governor’s guidelines.

“The city is working right now to figure all of this out, including how to open city buildings,” he said.

Strahan said people need to remember that situations concerning the pandemic can change at any time, so the city’s plans could change, too. For example, while the city currently sees very few new cases of COVID-19, as life goes on even in a limited way, there could be a spike now or in the fall, and that might prompt the Emergency Operations Center to reopen.

“This is a very fluid situation,” he noted.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said the city has “gotten through” because of the wonderful people who work for Greenfield, including its emergency management team. The Emergency Operations Center was up and running quickly, she said, and has done a great job containing the virus.

“All of the people around me know what they’re doing,” she said.

Wedegartner said COVID-19 has affected everyone socially, economically and psychologically, and the center and its emergency phone line have been there to help by answering questions, providing masks to the public and providing equipment to local care facilities and the hospital, to name a few.

Strahan said he is “very proud” of the staff of the Emergency Operations Center — mostly department heads and other city employees.

“We’ve built a real bond,” he said. “We worked together dealing with the challenges and issues of the pandemic and our overall response was successful.”

He said those employees will continue to work together, even if not in the same building, to protect the residents of Greenfield. Contact tracing will continue.

Adjusting to the challenges

Strahan said it was a challenge to run both the Emergency Operations Center with Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and the Greenfield Fire Department concurrently. Similarly, everyone who worked out of the center was also working their daily jobs as heads of departments as well, and did an excellent job of it.

“My staff came together and showed good leadership,” he said. “The real credit goes to the men and women of my department. They’ve come to work every day and they’ve adjusted to all of the challenges. They’ve responded professionally and with bravery.”

City employees will continue to prepare for future spikes in COVID-19 cases, if there are any. He said, “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re in a much better position now to handle what happens in the future.”

Response to COVID-19 has been much different from other emergencies the city has faced in the past, like weather emergencies.

“In the past, we used volunteer staff, but we recognized early during the pandemic that we were in it for a long duration and couldn’t do that,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had to gather to respond to an emergency for maybe three or four days, but we’re going on eight weeks with this emergency. It has been a different operation, a different emergency like we’ve never seen before, a different level of response, more a health response.”

Strahan credited the city’s success to its early response and preparation. Haigh agrees.

“Some were surprised, even critical of us at times, but it paid off,” Haigh said. “Chief Strahan looked at this with different eyes. He saw this coming and knew we had to establish a team.”

Strahan and Haigh have worked out of the center for the past eight weeks, along with Health Director Valerie Bird, Department of Public Works Director Marlo Warner, Recreation Department Director Christy Moore and Senior Center and Council on Aging Director Hope McCary and more, including the mayor and her staff.

Haigh, like Strahan, said his department has done a great job. He has kept in daily contact with his staff and has sent periodic messages to the public. He said it was important to keep everyone working on the pandemic response in the same place, so they can interact and act immediately when needed.

He was glad that because seniors are one of the most vulnerable populations, occupying the city’s community/senior center didn’t take anyone’s resources away, because it needed to be closed for protection anyway.

“We may have to be back in the fall if the virus surges again, but I’m hoping not,” Haigh said. “We know what to do now, though, so we’ll be prepared. We’ll be even more ready next time.”

Haigh said it has been a challenge for police because the department has had to hold detainees in its building on High Street, which meant there was more of a chance of spreading the virus. He said the station has been closed to the public, but will be opening with some restrictions on June 1.

“People have been calling and upset about applications for a license to carry, for instance,” he said. “We’re working out a plan for that now.”

Haigh looks forward to getting back to the station full-time June 1. He said police have been dealing with the more serious issues, like domestic violence, throughout the pandemic. Those cases are typically time-consuming, and through COVID-19, have been two to three times more time-consuming.

“What we worry about are children and their welfare,” he said. “We haven’t had the schools and day cares that typically are other sets of eyes for us. We’re concerned, but hopeful, that they are safe.”

Haigh said people probably won’t see a lot of changes in how they protect themselves from the virus until there is a vaccine, but people will slowly be able to return to some sort of normalcy.

The COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center’s community hotline can still be reached at 413-775-6411, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.




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