‘Strawberry Flashback’ wraps up with few incidents, public safety officials say

BUCKHANNON – County and city emergency response officials said the 80th Strawberry Festival concluded with little incident.

Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory said it was nice to return to a normal festival.

“We didn’t have any major issues; I think there were a lot of good working relationships we’ve always enjoyed, and we continue to enjoy that with other public safety entities,” Gregory said. “Today, we have what’s known as a ‘hotwash’ or an after-action review meeting. We’re all going to meet and discuss what went good what can be improved upon next year.”

A structure that could be seen in the Public Safety Complex parking lot was a cell tower used for emergencies. It was from FirstNet, a service offered by AT&T that is available to first responders so they can continue communications even if everything else goes down.

“It was an emergency backup,” Gregory said. “It was part of the preparedness aspect of just being ready to respond to any situation.”

Only two cars were towed due to the new parking ordinance that forbade parking on Main Street leading up to the parade.

“Two were towed the day of the horse and carriage on Saturday before the rest of the festival, and then the rest of the parades were good,” Gregory said. “We started shutting down the roads a lot earlier than we normally do, and we had an officer going up and down the street with a speaker reminding people. There was also good signage that was out on every pole throughout the street.”

Other county agencies were also prepared in case of emergencies. The Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management implemented a management software used previously called Rhodium, according to DHSEM director Steve Wykoff.

“This incident management software allows us to be better prepared and more efficient for potential incidents,” Wykoff said. “For example, a lot of the paperwork that we’ve been doing in the past was all done by hand, but the software makes a fillable PDF to make it easier on me. It will allow us to develop those reports and pass along the information to the appropriate forms automatically, so it eliminates a lot of redundant typing and makes things more efficient.”

“Additionally, we can outfit our responders with an app that they can download on their phones that will allow us to see their positions when they respond to an incident, which was something that we used on a larger scale for the first time with the Strawberry Festival this year.”

His office was also prepared to deal with several heat-related medical issues during the festival.

“We prepared for a significant number of heat emergencies, and luckily did not have the number of incidents that we had anticipated, which is always a good thing,” Wykoff said. Our motto is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, so it went extremely well. We did have some heat emergencies. I think we had less than half a dozen that were transported to the hospital, and most everybody else was treated right there on scene and returned to their activities.”

The DHSEM office also had to implement one of their weather-related emergency plans.

“We received a notification around 9:30 p.m. [Saturday] that an impending storm was coming in, and at that point, we initiated our emergency response plan that we had developed with the West Virginia Strawberry Festival based on inclement weather,” Wykoff said. “Based on the proximity of the lightning and how much closer it was getting, as well as the estimated wind and heavy rains, we had everybody moved out of the Jawbone area within about 30 minutes. To move that many people out of Jawbone, from the time that we got the call, I think was tremendous.”

The festival concluded Sunday, May 22.

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