Plainfield volunteers log thousands of hours

Photo by Marney Simon | Enterprise Staff PEMA volunteers are activated to help on special details around town, including events like the annual homecoming parade on Saturday, Oct. 7. Other duties for the volunteers include traffic control, weather spotting, and assisting in search and rescue when someone is reported missing.

Photo by Marney Simon | Enterprise Staff
The members of the Plainfield Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) logged more than 4,300 volunteer hours in 2016, according to a report issued to the village board this month on the agency and its efforts to keep Plainfield safe.

PEMA members assist police in operations

By Marney Simon | Enterprise Staff

Logging more than 4,300 volunteer hours, the members of the Plainfield Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) responded to calls in 2016, providing special details, emergency response support, and undergoing rigorous training throughout the year designed to keep the residents of Plainfield safe.

On Oct. 2, Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek presented the 2016 annual report on PEMA to the village board. The annual report was compiled by PEMA Deputy Director Ken Ruggles.

In 2016, PEAM volunteers spent 575 hours working emergency callouts, 178 hours on mutual aid, 1,076 hours working special details, and spent 1,404 hours in training.

According to the report, utilizing PEMA to assist during police callouts saves the village approximately $93,486.

Emergency callouts on 2016 included weather spotting, traffic control, search and rescue for missing elderly residents, and assisting on a water rescue.

The volunteer PEMA staff currently operates with about 25 people, and has 13 vehicles and eight trailers, and one ATV.

Emergency management divisions across the state exist to prepare for emergencies that are inevitable, due to either natural or man-made disasters.

“We would like to keep our numbers upward of 30,” Konopek told members of the village board. “At one point, we were actually close to 50 a few years ago, but because of different times and things like that, our numbers have dwindled. But we’ve been very good to keep it above 25.”

PEMA is second in size in Will County only to the county’s operated emergency management agency.

PEMA volunteers work with multiple areas of emergency preparedness and public safety.

“We have several components within EMA,” Konopek said. “We have separate divisions, we do have a search and rescue group that works with Will County EMA, that goes out and assists for missing individuals, whether they have Alzheimer’s as adults or missing children, they are very active in training and call outs.”

PEMA also has a bicycle unit that works alongside the police for special events, and a unit specially trained to work within our communications radio room at the EMA building during call outs or special events.

“They have a unique perspective as far as how to read the radios, how to read the radars that are on if it’s a severe weather event,” Konopek said. “Overall, we try to cross train everybody in everything.”

PEMA also has a specialty unit known as the Plainfield Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

“It’s actually a separate program for people who want to learn how to help their families, their workplaces, in the event we have another 1990 tornado, 1996 flood, something that just overwhelms us tremendously and we just can’t get to every neighborhood for a period of time,” Konopek said.

Over the past 12 years, the CERT team has been activated to support the village five times.

Trustee Bill Lamb said he was disturbed by the introduction to the report, where Ruggles wrote of PEMA volunteers, “Their fellow citizens sometimes even ridicule them while performing these duties. And yet, they come back, time and again, to help insure the safety of our community.”

Lamb said he was saddened to hear that the volunteer PEMA force has to endure any kind of abuse from the public.

“How frequent is that, that really disturbs me. It’s a heck of a service, they ought not to be abused,” Lamb said.

Chief Konopek said that while those workers do endure ribbing from the public from time to time, they are a dedicated staff who don’t let the abuse phase them.

“Unfortunately, all though they are strictly a volunteer work force, and a great volunteer work force, people have absolutely no idea that they are not the police,” Konopek said. “you’d be amazed at some of the ridicule our police officers take out there. So, when they’re out there doing traffic control at a crash site, a gas leak, a structure fire, a train derailment, people think they’re the police and people think that they can yell out whatever they want out of the windows because they’re inconvenienced for a moment’s time. Our folks are excellent as far as letting that run off them like rain water.”

Konopek noted that seeing the worst of people happens less frequently than seeing the best that Plainfield has to offer.

Village officials said they recognize the important work that PEMA and its volunteers do for the community.

“It’s a tremendous asset for the village, and hopefully we’ll get you a new building, it will be an even better asset,” Lamb said.

The village is considering construction of a new PEMA building. That site will be located inside village-owned property along Van Dyke Road. Part of that property is currently being developed as a PACE park and ride facility. The village is in the process of creating a public-private partnership to develop the rest of the site, to include a new PEMA facility.

PEMA is currently conducting an open enrollment period for new members.

Interested parties can stop in at the Police Department at 14300 S. Coil Plus Drive for an application, or download an application at www.plainfieldema.org.

Applicants must be 21 years old with a valid driver’s license, meet residential requirements, and pass a background check.

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