MAYVILLE - It's hard not to be intimidated sitting in the passenger seat of the county's new emergency services mobile command truck.
At 13 feet tall and 38 feet long, the truck is a force on the road, and one that may soon be showing up to major accidents and fires in the county.
So it's easy to understand why county fire and police officials are excited to show off their newest toy - courtesy of federal Homeland Security grants in the amount of $400,000. No local taxpayer money was used in the purchase.
The Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services recently has taken ownership of a mobile command truck, paid through federal Homeland Security funding. The $400,000 command truck will be put into service within the next 30 days.
P-J photo by Eric Tichy
The county Office of Emergency Services recently took ownership of the mobile command truck, equipped with technology to allow seamless communication between fire, police and state emergency officials. It's the sort of capability the county has long sought after to oversee major incidents, including large fires, police manhunts and weather emergencies.
Within the next 30 days the truck is expected to officially be put into service once training and any last-second glitches are worked out. The mobile command center will then respond to an array of incidents, ranging from large commercial structure fires to major flooded areas.
"We're very excited to have this command center available to us," said Julius Leone, Chautauqua County fire coordinator. "You want something like this around when something happens and you need a center of communication."
For the last few years, the county has been securing the federal grant money to purchase the vehicle. Norma Cummings, project coordinator, said several fire officials traveled to Erie and Genesee counties to tour their command trucks before settling on a model of their own.
"We went with something we thought was the best option for us," Cummings said.
Members of the county's Public Safety Committee were shown the truck last month. On Thursday, The Post-Journal was given a test drive down the streets of Mayville and through Ashville.
"It certainly drives a lot more smoothly than you would think," said Chris Wichlacz, emergency services planning technician, as he navigated the winding roads of South Erie Street near Chautauqua Lake. "... We get a lot of odd looks from people when we're driving this thing."
Once in service, the truck will have the capability of linking firefighters, police and state officials during major incidents. Enhanced radio communication between the agencies was a major reason for the purchase, Leone said.
"We want to keep everyone on the same page," he said. "When we're on site, you want to have the ability to communicate with everyone, and we just didn't have that before."
Leone alluded to the major flooding Silver Creek saw in 2009. There was the fire in 2010 that heavily destroyed the Masonic Temple in Dunkirk, and the massive manhunt of Ralph "Bucky" Phillips by state and local police in 2006. All would have benefited from a command center with the power to connect fire and police, he said.
"Incidents like that would have been perfect to have a truck like this," Leone said.
The vehicle - with the words "Command 7" emblazoned across the front - saw unofficial action last week in the town of Kiantone. A diesel tanker carrying 7,600 gallons of fuel overturned on Route 62, sending its driver to WCA Hospital with minor injuries. Although primarily used for training purposes in that situation, officials were able to communicate with fire police to close the road to traffic.
Sheriff Joe Gerace, meanwhile, is optimistic the command truck can be used to improve efficiencies and even save lives.
"It's an outstanding platform for oversight of emergency situations," Gerace said. "The tools can be used throughout the county and do things we haven't been able to do.
"If we have a large spill or a hostage situation, we could use the video functions and keep an eye on things. It's going to be a tremendous tool that may even save lives."
Gerace said the Sheriff's Office was contacted by the emergency services office throughout the process and provided input as the truck was designed. "The expertise certainly was there when the truck was built," he said.
Because federal grant money was used to secure the vehicle, state emergency officials may request the truck in weather or large-scale incidents. The command truck could even find its way to New York City if called upon.
"The state has the ability to call us. It could be used for anything and go anywhere," Cummings said.