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02-02-04: Serving one call at a time

Volunteers in Mercer County put lives on line for public’s safety

Standing in the middle of U.S. 127 in northern Mercer County, Kevin Bell carefully placed three bright, orange cones across the roadway and signaled oncoming traffic to remain at bay.
It was barely 15 degrees outside with a stiff wind blowing as Bell watched a tow truck pull a large semitrailer from the depths of a nearby snow-covered ditch. As a member of MCERV — Mercer County Emergency Response Volunteers — he did his job, so emergency crews could do theirs.
It’s a partnership of sorts, MCERV secretary/treasurer and adviser Michelle Fiely said.
“We save law enforcement officers from wasting their time handling minor traffic details,” said Fiely, a former firefighter/paramedic and Mercer County sheriff’s deputy.
In the past, firefighters sometimes parked spare trucks across roadways to keep traffic away, an action that tied up emergency equipment, Fiely said.
MCERV, a non-profit group, informally started in the fall of 2001 and was signed under contract with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office in Feb. 2003. The idea started, however, about 12 years ago with a similar group formed by the Disaster Service Agency (now called the Emergency Management Agency). That group no longer exists.
Sheriff Jeff Grey said the contract is a win-win situation for the public.
“The recent Hemmelgarn (egg plant) fire in Philothea was a good example of MCERV’s importance,” Grey said. “Without them, our deputies would have been out there all day routing traffic.”
Grey said the volunteers likely save taxpayers thousands of dollars each year in overtime previously paid to deputies. The contract between MCERV and the sheriff’s office insures that MCERV members have legal driver’s licenses, carry auto liability insurance and are trained properly in traffic control, he added. There is no money involved.
Not all MCERV’s pages are to accidents and fires.
“We do lots of parades, monitoring intersections around the parade routes,” said member Jim Brockman, a former Mercer Countian now living in Sidney. “We have a presence at a lot of county festivals, parking cars and giving overnight security.”
The members, who logged nearly 500 hours during the last year, are available to search for missing people but would not be summoned to dangerous situations, Grey said. Preventing bystanders and members of the media from trespassing on secured scenes is also a task they are called on to provide.
The volunteers get paged out by the county’s dispatchers as requested. Sometimes they are activated several times a week; sometimes it’s two to three weeks between calls, said Fiely of Coldwater.
Because of the organization’s tax-exempt status, MCERV can accept donations for protective equipment and clothing, and donors can write off the gift. The 501(C)3 status also allows them to seek grant money, said Fiely, whose husband, Jim, is president of the group.
MCERV individuals must fork out their own money to pay for gasoline and other expenses related to their vehicles. Overalls and reflective orange vests are provided.
Members, currently there are 22, undergo a background check and get training in traffic control by sheriff’s deputy Mark Heinl. CPR, first-aid training and communication classes may be added in the future.
In July 2003, the group was called on repeatedly to help maintain closed roads due to flooding. Some held all-night vigils on washed out roadways to block the path of motorists who were oblivious to the danger after dark.
“It’s not a glamorous job. We don’t run stoplights or anything like that,” Brockman said. “We just feel there’s a need for our services and we want to help.”
Anyone interested in joining MCERV can call 419-678-2141 between 10 a.m.-6 p.m.


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