Polk County Public Safety Committee - February 2018

Rockmart resident Ed Graves wants help getting tractor trailers to slow down coming through Rockmart on Highway 278. (Kevin Myrick/SJ)

Ed Graves has seen enough of speeding trucks down Highway 278 to last a lifetime. The other day, he was pulling onto the Nathan Dean Bypass and narrowly avoided being hit by a tractor trailer speeding through the area.

Graves watched the truck go by without having ever hit the breaks, but instead blew the loud horn in response. He could have lived with that, and several other instances he told the Public Safety committee about during his time addressing the group.

The last straw was when his granddaughter was put in danger.

“Two weeks ago, my wife was picking up my granddaughter from Eastside Elementary School over by TipTop,” Graves said.

“The westbound lanes were completely stopped, and one eastbound lane was open.”

Just as his wife and granddaughter were about to pull out onto Rockmart Highway, a truck sped by and narrowly avoided a horrible accident and serious injury. So he came to tell his story and ask for one particular item from the committee they can’t completely control: slow down the trucks.

“Commercial trucks speed limits should be dropped down to 45 mph,” Graves said. “Everyone will tell you — the DOT, law enforcement and the drivers themselves — a truck is 2-3 times harder to stop than a normal car.”

Commission chair Jennifer Hulsey and Polk County’s public safety heads all agree the trucks should be slowed down, but the issue isn’t one they get to determine.

As Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd pointed out, the speed limit through the Rockmart city limits was determined by a former mayor Curtis Lewis. And because law enforcement are limited to pulling over drivers only after they go more than 10 miles an hour over the speed limit, there isn’t much that can be done to stop speeders.

Dodd and others agreed the speed limit should be dropped.

The committee told Graves his starting point for adjusting the speed limit in Rockmart would be to start with their city council, who would then need to forward up the request to the state level.

Hulsey also promised that research would be done about getting safety features installed to warn drivers of the dangers of speeding too fast through the area.

“All of us together can get something done,” Graves said.

The idea for getting Polk County’s public safety officials a mobile command post for situations that require a staging point and communications is still in the works, for now.

Polk County Public Safety Director Randy Lacey reported back that he’s been searching for solutions to getting a vehicle that is ready for conversion to a mobile command post — like a small passenger bus for instance — is still underway. He’s been searching through state surplus so far and turned up nothing that can be used so far.

Hulsey suggested the county get access to federal surplus in order to see if a vehicle would be available through their program, but that is also a project still in the works.

The idea is for the county to be able to convert the interior of a chosen vehicle to be able to hold several people in a small conference room for meetings during crisis situations, have radio communication systems on hand that will allow personnel to use radios without overloading the regular system, and even provide a warm or cool shelter for men and women on the scene during extreme conditions.

The hopes are to be able to use the vehicle during situations like January’s second snowstorm when firefighters spent most of the day battling not only a house fire, but freezing temperatures as well.

One area where public safety officials haven’t come to a full agreement is on instituting a system of putting together after action reports following major incidents in Polk County.

A item brought up by Hulsey, the discussion over the reports was returned to during the February committee meeting with mixed opinions. Hulsey is pushing for the reports to be able to come up with items for improvements and areas where public safety officials can learn from problems in the field and address those issues internally.

She additionally called for outside opinions to undertake some of the work, to avoid items in a review being missed and provided unbiased results in reports.

The argument against the process came from Lacey, who sees it as problematic for a variety of reasons, but mostly on the basis that outside opinions can be helpful, but don’t address particularly localized practices and needs.

He also said that in the past, officials have voiced their needs and concerns following major incidents in the past but have been mainly ignored.

One area where he felt it would be useful to develop a system for helping public safety officials in the field is an employee support system for law enforcement, firefighter and even 911 operators.

The goal in mind is to help those going out to difficult scenes or involved in life-threatening situations get the psychological help they need to cope and heal following traumatic events.

Dodd pointed to Officer David Goodrich as an example of an employee struggling following a major incident.

He said Goodrich came to him in recent weeks to discuss his emotional state after he was shot but uninjured while Det. Kristen Hearne was gunned down on Sept. 29 last year.

Dodd said that Goodrich is still on the job, but is an example of an officer who could benefit from the help provided by such a program.