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Copley Chief Says Barricades Put Lives at Risk, Fairlawn Chiefs Say No

Copley's fire chief and Fairlawn's police and fire chief testified in court on Tuesday.

In day two of the Copley v. Fairlawn Rothrock Road trial, Fairlawn's police and fire chiefs both said adding barricades to Rothrock will not slow emergency vehicle response times.

Copley Township attorney Irv Sugerman called Fairlawn's police Chief Kenneth Walsh to the stand. Walsh has been with the department for 16 years.

Sugerman asked Walsh if he was familiar with the "Click to Enter" system Fairlawn wants to use on a proposed gate at Rosemont Boulevard. Walsh said he knows of the system but was not consulted by the mayor or any other city official when it came to the final decision to use it.

The "Click to Enter" system works with police radios when emergency vehicles are nearing a gate. The safety personnel clicks their car microphone on a certain radio frequency and the gate opens.  Walsh said he has not done any research on the system but he has seen it in action in Solon. He said from what he's heard about it and how he's watched it operate that it was sufficient to use in Fairlawn.

"Is it true that no one asked you if it was a good idea to use it?" Sugerman asked.

"It was the basic description that was given to me and it was my feeling then that the city has always purchased equipment that was the best that could be found," Walsh said.

"But did anyone ask your opinion on it," Sugerman asked. Walsh said no.

Sugerman asked Walsh if he was aware of the plan to block Rothrock Road using water-filled plastic barricades and whether blocking the road would lower response times.

"No it will not affect response times," Walsh said. "I base my opinion on the fact that I read all the reports from the officers. The analysis I've done is based on my judgement and knowledge. Our police department can respond to those areas and may be affected and provide the service they need."

Walsh said Fairlawn police did not respond to any calls at Copley Place last year. Fairlawn also did not respond to the nearby Fairway Park apartment complex.

Sugerman asked Walsh if he ever calculated response times from the police station to Copley Place. Then he made a scenario that required a police cruiser to repsond to Copley High School and asked the fastest way there.

"It's not easy to calculate response times because the cars don't come from the station. They come from anywhere in the city," Walsh said. "Lights and sirens make a big difference. They could go down Rothrock Road, but there's also an alternative at Rosemont Boulevard. You could go Springside Drive down to Cleveland-Massillon Road. Either way would be a quick response."

Fairlawn's fire Chief Russ Hose agreed. Hose said Fairlawn, Copley and Bath police and fire departments have an automatic response contract that allows each municipality to assist each other at all times.

When Hose found out Rothrock was going to be barricaded and the question of increased response times arose, he drove from Copley Station 1, Copley Station 2 and the to see how long it took to get to Copley Place.

He also said no one with the city of Fairlawn asked him his opinion on barricading Rothrock to begin with. He also agreed that the fastest way from Copley Place to the expressway was Rothrock Road to Cleveland-Massillon Road but added that barricades or a gate system will not slow response times.

The water-filled barricades were Hose's idea.

"I made the recommendation in April," Hose said. "Plastic barriers weigh one quarter the weight of concrete barriers. They can be half full of water and still block the way. Concrete barriers require a heavy piece of equipment to move it.

Hose said an emergency responder would be required to drive up to the water barrier, remove a pin and push the barrier out of the way with the car's bumper. He said it would not add extra time.

Copley's fire Chief Michael Benson disagrees. He's been with Copley for five years. He brought a document that said Copley has responded to medical calls at Copley Place 337 times between 2007 and 2012.

Benson drew up a map with the help of one of his coworkers showing how long it takes to get from each fire station to Copley Place with the barricade on Rothrock. He used Google Maps to map the routes. Benson said no one in Fairlawn told him about the plan to use water-filled barriers.

Benson said the worst case scenario would be a drive from Copley Station 1 to Brookwall  because it's 4.1 miles and it takes 10 minutes to arrive. He said even though Copley Station 2 is closest to Copley Place, it takes longer to arrive.

"What structures in and around Rothrock Road give you concern as far as responding to emergencies," Sugerman asked.

"Copley Place and Fairway Park," Benson said. "Worst case scenario if both places are filled to capacity, we're talking about 1,000 people."

Benson added, "The biggest concerns I have are that we're placing hundreds of our senior residents' lives in danger. If I were having to do fire planning on this, this would never be my recommendation. Placing a senior living facility behind a barricade is not a good idea. The senior residents at Copley Place are in their 80s. Something tragic will occur and I don't want to have to answer for that death by not standing up for something that's wrong."

The trial continues at 9:30 a.m. today.

 

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