Editorial: Public safety and public works in Clinton
“Public safety works in Clinton.” That was Clinton City Manager Frank Stovall’s assessment the morning after a particularly gruesome two-car accident in Clinton. The investigation by the MAIT (Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team) of the SC Highway Patrol isn’t completed and no charges have been filed in the wreck that sent all four people in the two cars to hospitals. Unofficial preliminary reports are that one of the cars was speeding when the other car pulled out in front of it at the intersection of West Main Street and North Bell Street. The three people in the car believed to have been speeding were all ejected and were lying in the middle of Main Street when emergency personnel arrived. The other car landed on the railroad tracks and the driver had to be extricated by those first on the scene. The accident was horrendous. Parts from the cars littered the streets, giving the appearance of a junkyard. But Stovall’s point is larger than a single accident no matter who is at fault. The City of Clinton responded quickly and efficiently. The accident knocked out power in a large area of the city. The downtown area was in total darkness. Residents and businesses had no electricity. An electrical surge knocked the meters off of 75 houses. Workers from the Department of Public Works responded in force and had power restored by most of the houses by 11 p.m. They had to go door to door to get electricity back on. The Department of Public Safety – both the fire and police divisions – handled the human side of the incident – the victims, the onlookers. They are trained in emergency medicine and many are certified medical technicians. When they get to an accident scene, they know what to do to help EMS workers, Stovall said. They know where the items are in the ambulances and can provide quick and efficient assistance that allows the EMTs to concentrate on the injured. All the city’s volunteer firefighters were called in. Fire trucks patrolled the neighborhoods as electricity was restored in the case of house fires – a real possibility given the surge that knocked the meters off houses. The police quickly cordoned off the area around the accident – including the debris field – and asked for the assistance of MAIT investigators. Officers from Clinton were on the scene until almost daybreak. One shift of public safety police officers had gone off duty just before the accident happened and all of them turned around and came back to assist, Stovall said. There were at least three dozen full-time city employees who responded to the scene – from administration, public works and public safety. Most of them had already put in a full day of work for the citizens of Clinton. Some of them had attended a city council meeting that ended just before the accident happened. There are people who don’t think Clinton should have a Department of Public Safety with firefighters trained as police officers and police officers trained as firefighters. It’s been that way since the city moved to the concept in the early 2000s. Some of the municipalities in South Carolina have switched from public safety back to separate fire and police departments. Stovall admitted the day after last week’s accident that he was not convinced of the soundness of public safety when he became city manager, but he’s been converted. He’s seen public safety in action up close and personal. He spent a day last week on a ride-along with a public safety police officer. Stovall believes public safety is the right thing for Clinton. Anyone seeing public safety in action last week would be hard-pressed to say the citizens of Clinton are not served well by the concept. Public safety certainly worked in Clinton last week in the hours following the accident. As did public works. Our city employees made us proud.