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Emergency Management: 2020 in review

Rick Covert
Rick Covert

This past year can best be described as challenging. As January 2020 unfolded, little did we realized how much different life would become as learned more about the coronavirus global pandemic. It was an especially challenging year for the emergency responder community, adapting to changed protocols for handling calls, but also for continuing education purposes. I’m proud to state that responders all across Franklin County faced the new challenges with determination and continue to do so going into 2021.

The following are some of the highlighted challenges encountered by Franklin County Emergency Management along with its partners in the fire service, law enforcement, emergency medical services and county and municipal utilities.

Jan. 10, 2020, brought us our first bout of severe weather for the new year with severe thunderstorms impacting the county, along with an EF-1 tornado that touched down east of Cecil.

On Feb. 4, with heavy rainfall taking place, a landslide occurred on Highwa. 215 at Cass. On Feb. 19, both county operated repeater sites had a new battery backup system installed.

March would bring the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, and with it an increased need for personal protective equipment (PPE) for all emergency responders and daily conference calls with state officials. Subsequent trips to supply depots would ensue throughout the remainder of the year.

In April, our spring storm season activity increased with several activations of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for Skywarn Storm Spotter nets. Several shipments of PPE were received from FEMA, along with distribution.

May and June were both active months for Search and Rescue, with several missions along the Mulberry River taking place.

July began with assisting Crawford County for a missing subject near the Locke community. There were also two rollover accidents on Highway 23 North during the month, both involving semi-trucks which mainly caused traffic control issues.

August brought a small bout with severe weather as a severe thunderstorm produced significant damage in the Charleston area during the early morning of Aug. 14.

In September, as certain outdoor venues began to resume, there was a light aircraft crash near Cass, which resulted in injuries to the pilot at a fly-in event.

October saw the return of heavy rains with roads across the county being impacted.

November was a busy month with several incidents involving commercial vehicles.

December was an especially trying month with a gasoline tanker truck accident on Interstate 40 at Ozark that resulted in an explosion, fire, HAZMAT release and driver fatality on the Dec. 23. The year closed out with explosive devices located inside a recovered stolen vehicle at a business in Ozark on Dec. 31. The devices were later disposed of by the Fort Smith Bomb Squad.

This is by no means a complete listing of all the events that took place in the county over the past year. Our Search and Rescue Team was activated numerous times, especially during the early months of the pandemic as an above average number of persons visited our forests and hiking trails. One thing that stands out about these highlighted events is the cooperation between all disciplines of emergency response. I feel that this highlights the basic character of emergency responders across our county. They each have a strong willingness to help their neighbors in time of need and the integrity to work well together for the benefit of the citizens they serve.