A Saratoga disaster
July 17, 2019
On Friday, the Saratoga Care Center held its annual federally mandated disaster drill which involved the complete evacuation of the facility, a bomb going off, two woundings, a fatality and a hostage.
At last year’s drill, members of the Saratoga Police and Fire Departments showed up along with a SCWEMS ambulance crew.
That ambulance crew included, now, mayor of Saratoga John Zeiger.
Mr. Zeiger was also the Carbon County Emergency Coordinator at the time and, in that capacity, has run or assisted in these types of disaster simulations. He is well aware of the importance of these drills and the in-the-field training these types of scenarios provide to first responders and emergency technicians.
Though Mr. Zeiger agreed to appear at, or send a representative to, the July 3 table top planning meeting at the Platte Valley Community Center, he did not do either.
It is possible the mayor had a good excuse for this. It is equally as possible that he did not.
Whatever the case, the mayor was contacted later, both by phone and in person, by involved agencies and asked to provide a police presence at the exercise. After being noncommittal, the mayor referred the matter to Saratoga Police Chief Ken Lehr.
Chief Lehr then declined to participate, citing a lack of personnel.
The Saratoga Sun has to wonder why our police department, and its near million dollar annual budget, seems to not care to train their officers in this kind of endeavor when the mayor has formerly espoused the importance of such training.
That would be bad enough, but two fire engines were staged and prepared to depart with six firefighters in full bunker gear.
Two 911 calls were made from the care center about a bomb threat—which eventually became an “explosion.” These are exactly the situations our firefighters were prepared to encounter.
Unfortunately, they never got the signal from Saratoga dispatch that it was okay to proceed.
We have been told the firefighters later tried to call dispatch and that even that call brought no response.
Though the Carbon County Deputy Coroner, officials from Carbon County Public Health and the present Carbon County Emergency Coordinator were on site along with the ambulance service, who sent a vehicle to the scene, and Classic Air Medical, who had flown their helicopter in to triage victims at the event—Saratoga Police were nowhere to be found except for the lone officer who showed up in the course of his rounds. Even then, when the officer was asked to clear the building, he declined because he said he was carrying live ammunition.
Knowing it was a drill, why would you even have to unholster your weapon?
Just make a finger gun and at least walk into the front of the building.
The Saratoga Sun finds this situation indicative of an appalling lack of concern by our mayor and the Saratoga Police Chief for a federally mandated drill.
We have seen other communities fully engage with emergency agencies, police departments, fire departments and even neighboring communities to accomplish the goals for these types of scenarios.
Is there a real reason Saratoga would neglect this type of disaster training?
Are we going to be happy with leaving life flight and the fire department ready, but und-ispatched, because of a lack of police involvement in a detailed scenario?
Also, the expense of having Classic Air Medical fly in and be unused because dispatch did not send anyone to pick them up or having two truckloads of fully geared Saratoga volunteer firemen not get a chance to train because of a similar lack of dispatch should not go unnoticed.
We will be asking for more information on this at the next town council meeting because we find this a shameful showing from those who should have been there and would have benefited.
We, at the Saratoga Sun, hope you will also seek these answers.