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County Officials Question 911 Outage

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Firefighters, contractors and community volunteers worked to salvage fire equipment still trapped inside McAfee Fire Station 12 after heavy winds ripped off the station’s roof on Friday, March 3. County officials are questioning why 911 operations failed during the storm.

Robert Moore
Herald Staff

County officials are wondering what happened with the 911 system during the windstorm on Friday, March 3.

At the Mercer County Fiscal Court regular meeting on Tuesday, March 14, Mercer County Emergency Management Director Brad Cox said the 911 phone lines went down. That was followed by a failure in dispatch operations and Bluegrass 911, which has handled 911 operations for nearly two years, couldn’t dispatch police, fire and emergency services. Cox said they brought in two volunteers to run the radio room at county emergency management. Volunteers would receive calls from Bluegrass 911, then communicate with first responders over the radio.

“It went as good as it could,” Cox said.

County officials noted the outage wasn’t just in Mercer County, but in all over Bluegrass 911’s service area. Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean asked Cox to speak to Bluegrass 911 about the outage.

The fiscal court and the Harrodsburg City Commission voted to close Harrodsburg Dispatch and merge 911 operations with Bluegrass 911 in July 2021, citing ongoing staffing issues and the costs of running the department, which include hardware and software. In April 2022, residents complained it took Bluegrass 911 too long to sound the sirens when a series of severe storms rolled through the area. The county installed equipment that allowed officials to operate the sirens locally.

“They haven’t been the most open with it,” said Cox, who said Bluegrass 911 have a backup trailer in case of outages. He said he would talk with Bluegrass 911 at their next quarterly board meeting

“There will be some questions asked at that meeting,” Cox said.

On March 3, Judge-Executive Sarah Steele declared a state of emergency, which is still in effect. Ric Maxfield, chief of the Mercer County Fire Protection District, said that allowed them to quickly repair the roof at one station which had been damaged in the storm. Maxfield said McAfee Fire Station 12 was not as fortunate. Maxfield said station 12 is undergoing demolition.

There is currently no time frame for closing out the emergency declaration, officials said.

An intense low pressure system produced violent thunderstorms, dangerous winds, flooding and several small tornadoes. Wind gusts of 73 miles per hour were recorded in Mercer County, according to the National Weather Service.

According to the Mercer County Sanitation District, nearly an inch of rain fell on Friday, but it was the wind that has the biggest impact. There was widespread wind damage and power outages reported with numerous streets—including Main Street in Harrodsburg and U.S. 127—being closed temporarily.

Maxfield, along with Firefighter Mitchell LeRocque, was inside station 12 when the roof was torn off, said the fire district answered 17 calls on the day of storm. Todd Palmer, supervisor of the road department said the storm shut 32 roads.

Sheriff Ernie Kelty said most of his deputies were out with reserve deputies handling calls and handling damaged trees. Kelty praised the unpaid reserve deputies.

“When I called them, they came out,” Kelty said.

“We live in a wonderful county,” said the sheriff, who said residents came out with chain saws to help, even former offenders.

“It was amazing,” Kelty said. “If we treated each other like that all the time, what kind of world would we live in?”

Officials thanked volunteers and county workers for their hard work during the wind storm. Judge Steele thanked the county workers.

“I’m thankful for all departments,” Steele said.

For the rest of the story, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald. Click here to subscribe.

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