Members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Van Wert Post pose outside the Council on Aging Senior Center. (Photo submitted)
Members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Van Wert Post pose outside the Council on Aging Senior Center. (Photo submitted)

VAN WERT – As the coronavirus continues to have an impact on the community, The Ohio State Highway Patrol has been working around the area to be visible and to help where needed. Van Wert OSHP Post 81 Commander Lt. Jonathan Gray noted that most recently, the Patrol has been set up to help deliver used N95 masks to Columbus to be sanitized by Battelle.

Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine worked with the OSHP to create drop-off locations for first responders who need their N95’s sanitized. As of this week, the Van Wert Post is a drop-off location for fire, EMS, and law enforcement.

“We can take an entire county of [masks] from these small agencies and take them to our headquarters,” said Gray. “They collect all of the counties and then send them to Columbus. It’s a day or two turn-around.”

Masks in Van Wert County are dropped off at the Findlay Post. Those masks make their way to Columbus to be sanitized by Battelle and then come back to be reused.

“It makes sense because we are the one agency that can go anywhere in the state,” said Gray. “We can drive and deliver stuff. It’s a good use of our resources.”

Locally, Gray noted that the Van Wert Post has worked to keep their employees and their space sanitized.

“We’ve had some incidents where we’ve had to deal with people in close proximity that we didn’t know if they were infected or not,” said Gray. “We’ve been really fortunate; in our area, Van Wert and Paulding counties, we haven’t had any contact that we know of of positive cases and all of my employees are really healthy.”

Gray said the Van Wert Post has taken many measures to prevent contamination inside of the building. Each time a person leaves for the day, that room is disinfected. If a trooper has someone in their car, the car will be disinfected before it is used again.

The Van Wert Post has been able to get disinfecting products through the Van Wert United Way, Three Rivers Distilling Company, and employees who have donated supplies.

In addition to disinfecting, troopers are staggering their shift change and those that are working from home are doing so. However, with a 24/7 call center, troopers and dispatch officers are still working to make sure the community’s needs are met.

“I really think that the employees taking to heart the measures that we took around two months ago made an impact,” said Gray. “The employees in the Dispatch Center really have done a great job at disinfecting.”

Since the Stay at Home order has been in effect, Gray noted that there have been fewer traffic violations. However, he said that some of the violations they have seen have been excessive speeds up to 100 miles per hour on area highways.

“We try to be visible everywhere people are, and we don’t just let stuff go when it comes to aggressive violations such as stop sign violations, high speed, and things that we see as crash-causing violations,” said Gray. “We’re still taking action. Because the traffic flow is a little bit lighter, we’ve seen a couple 100 plus miles an hour stops out there and some high 90s.”

Gray cautions those who haven’t driven in several weeks to be careful as things open back up.

“We still have to pay attention to stop signs, still need to wear seat belts, and you still need to pay attention to your speed,” he explained. “We all know that driving distracted is dangerous so when we get back into the car and think about dealing with phone calls and text messages, we really need to be aware of how distracting that is. That’s still something we need to be mindful of.”

While the Van Wert Post has been busy assisting the community with local food drives and helping the senior center organize their food distribution and deliver the packages, they also took the time last week to honor their dispatchers. National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week was celebrated from April 12-18.

“That week is all about highlighting the people behind the scenes,” said Gray. “They receive and dispatch the calls. They are the ones that know where the troopers are, they check on us, pay attention to what is going on and ensure that we are answering our radios and safe. They know when something is going on and send us help. They also send the public help when they call. They are the first person that the public talks to when they are need of help.”

The Van Wert OSHP celebrated Pat Bowsher, who was the 2019 “Dispatcher of the Year.”