Henry County buying new vehicles used in hostage situations and other emergencies | News

McDONOUGH — Henry County’s public safety departments received approval Tuesday to replace two command vehicles in its fleet.

The vehicles, which act as mobile command centers, are employed during emergencies such as fires, severe weather events, hostage situations and the like. They act as a meeting and communications site when multiple agencies are involved in emergency situations.

Fire Chief Jonathan Burnette explained the two mobile centers public safety currently has are 2005 models built on RV style frames, which was standard practice in the early 2000s but are now out of date. The mobile center used by Henry County police recently caught fire and is totally out of service.

“Both are now outdated, and they weren’t built to be upgraded and several parts are failing,” Burnette said.

One vehicle will be shared among Henry County’s Emergency Management Agency, Henry County police and Henry County fire departments.

The second will be used by the E911 center to act as a back up location. It will also be available for use by other jurisdictions the county has agreements with in the event of an emergency.

Henry County Police Chief Mark Amermann said while he hopes they never have to use the command vehicles, they’re both needed and are a worthwhile investment for the county. He noted that if the centers are needed it means there’s a significant emergency taking place that often will span over several days.

“This is the vehicle for the next 20 years,” he said. “They can be constantly upgraded with new radios, computers and cameras; that’s huge and that’s what we need.”

Commissioner Vivian Thomas questioned why Amermann and Burnette were not pursuing a lease option rather than purchasing outright.

She suggested building command centers in fire stations rather than using mobile vehicles or possibly using drones to monitor situations.

Both explained that in the event of an emergency they need to be onsite to report and communicate back to home base.

“The mobile allows you to be on scene with real time information coming to you,” Amermann said. “You can run emergencies offsite, but it complicates the situation.”

He added that such vehicles protect personnel from the weather and allows decision-makers to be in one place at one time.

And while drones are useful, they’re not practical, especially in severe weather events.

The county’s plan is to purchase the two vehicles using American Rescue Plan Act funds. County Manager Cherie Matthews explained that if the county opts to lease, monies to pay for the vehicles will have to come from the general fund rather than ARPA funds. She added the Board of Commissioners has previously stated they wanted the ARPA money to be used for general county needs.

Commissioner Johnny Wilson said in addition to purchasing the new command vehicles, the county needs to consider making the replacement of public safety vehicles a priority, asking for fleet services to take inventory of what’s needed, such as fire trucks, ambulances and squad cars.

Fleet Services Director Jody Swords said the average age of the county’s fleet is 14 years, noting some are 16-20 years old, many with obsolete parts.

The BOC unanimously approved the $2.7 million request. The vehicles will be purchased from Ten-8 Fire and Safety Equipment of Forsyth.

It’s currently unclear if the county intends to assign additional ARPA funds to the public safety cluster for fleet updates.

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