Fire service has $6,726 car phone bill Charges top all county departments

January 07, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The county fire service ran up the highest car phone bill of any county department during the period from July 1991 through November 1992, spending 43 percent of the total.

The department, which uses 11 mobile phones, made $6,726 worth of calls in that period -- 71 percent more than any other department.

One reason for the high bill, said Deputy Chief James E. Heller, is that several phones are assigned to battalion chiefs who are on the road a lot and don't want to use their radios for non-emergency conversations.

Battalion chiefs supervise operations around the clock at 10 stations and often use their phones to deal with administrative matters, Chief Heller said.

There are also emergency situations in which communication by phone is more appropriate than by radio, he said.

"There are a bazillion scanners out there, and sometimes we need to keep things confidential."

Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell, the fire service press officer, said he uses his phone to talk to media representatives when he is at the scene of a fire, accident or civil emergency.

Other fire and rescue personnel also use car phones in emergency situations. Calling the owner of a burning building to gain access, getting information from a manufacturer when dealing with a chemical spill, or talking to the hospital from an ambulance are common occurrences, Commander Howell said.

"Dealing directly with the source is an advantage," he said.

Car phones are also used often at the scene of accidents to allow survivors to call relatives, Commander Howell said.

The police department, with five car phones, was the second-largest user over the past 16 months, running up a bill of $2,743.

The department uses its phones primarily to "protect information that cannot go out over the general air waves," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a police spokesman.

Sergeant Gardner said the phones are also used in hostage-like situations in which arresting officers want to talk to suspects who are not near a phone. In those instances, a mobile phone would be placed nearby, and police would yell at the suspects and direct them to use the phone to communicate with them.

The Parks and Recreation Department, which has four car phones, ran up the third- highest bill with $2,453 worth of calls. The biggest user, said Director Jeffrey A. Bourne, was the coordinator of the licensed child-care program, who is on the road from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Dyan Brasington, the former economic development director, made calls amounting to $2,368 before leaving in December to become economic development director for the state of West Virginia.

County Solicitor Barbara Cook, the county chief attorney, had the lowest phone bill, $114. That bill covered only a six-month period, however. Ms. Cook removed her car phone as a budget-cutting measure.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker had a $690 phone bill for his 16 months of use. County Administrator Raquel Sanudo made $573 worth of calls in the same period.

Other departments within the administration -- Citizen Services; Corrections; Finance; General Services; Inspections, Licenses, and Permits; Planning and Zoning; and Public Works -- do not have car phones.

The County Council members' car phone expenses were reported in December. The five council members made $15,176 worth of phone calls during the past 16 months -- 49 percent of the county total of $30,843. C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, was the greatest user, followed by Shane Pendergrass, D-1st; Paul R. Farragut, D-4th; Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th.

COUNTY GOVERNMENT CAR PHONE USE

July 5, 1991 to Nov. 27, 1992

Fire Department.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .$6,726

Police Department.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 2,743

Parks and Recreation Department.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .2,453

Dyan Brasington, former Economic Development Director.. 2,368

Charles I. Ecker, county executive.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...690

Raquel Sanudo, county administrator.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..573

Barbara Cook, county solicitor.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .114

Sub-total.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. $15,667

County Council members.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..$15,176

Total.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .$30,843

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