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First responders adapt to ramp closures on the McKees Rocks Bridge

By Elizabeth Perry

Because of the Helen Street Ramp closures slated to continue on the McKees Rocks Bridge construction project, first responders dependent on using the ramps to quickly exit the McKees Rocks Bottoms area have made alternate plans.

The Presston Volunteer Fire Company, which services McKees Rocks, is moving one of its engines to the McKees Rocks municipal building in order to ensure access during an emergency.

Northwest Emergency Medical Services, also has a station located in Presston, and is staging a site on Island Avenue in order to have adequate access to the borough. Dylan Laplante, paramedic and 190 C3 Assistant Chief, said they adopted a “whole different operational plan” to accommodate the ramp closures which had been planned out long before in anticipation of the construction.

Northwest EMS has stations in Ben Avon and Ingram as well as in the Bottoms neighborhood on Helen Street.

“We have different posting locations on Chartiers. We will strategically move trucks to different locations,” Laplante said.

Though the arrangement has been more taxing for the first responders, it is necessary. Laplante had previously expressed trepidation about the way PennDOT had handled the closures on the McKees Rocks Bridge. However, he said PennDOT had been working well with Northwest EMS, and he had a direct line to the superintendent on the project.

They have had to tweak a few posting locations since the closures but there have been few issues.

“So far it's working really well,” Laplante said.

Presston Fire Chief Mike Stepek said early on when the bridge first closed there were some serious accidents, but “it seems to have settled down a little bit.”

“I’m not sure if the signage and the speed identifiers have helped,” Stepek said. He said drivers seem to have slowed down.

“It’s a positive thing,” Stepek said.

Presston firefighters have also had to adapt to the bridge construction. Moving the engine down to the McKees Rocks station was necessary because getting to the Island Avenue side of the bridge in a timely manner was difficult otherwise.

“Going around, you have the potential of being blocked by a train,” Stepek said.

Adding the extra engine wasn’t the only aspect of the plan. Stepek said they have an additional system so that when firefighters on call get a phone alert, they are told which station to report to, and volunteer firefighters often carry their gear with them, so they aren’t stuck. Some firefighters have gear in McKees Rocks and Presston.

Stepek said there are now 15 members of the Presston force, three of whom had belonged to McKees Rocks Volunteer Fire Department previously. In March, Presston became the primary volunteer firefighting force in McKees Rocks after the borough council revoked the status of the McKees Rocks Volunteer Fire Department which had suffered a depletion in numbers and discord with borough management.

Stepek said the team had adapted well to the ramp closures on the bridge.

“We put a plan into place and it is working well, actually a little better than I expected it to. It’s mainly because all the members are buying into and realize the need for what we have to do,” Stepek said.


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