Town of Palm Beach fire, police officials share end-of-season updates

Town of Palm Beach fire, police officials share end-of-season updates
Town of Palm Beach fire, police officials share end-of-season updates

As the car carriers roll off the island and the sun sets on another season in Palm Beach, public safety officials say that while this year poses some familiar challenges, progress is being made.

This has been one of the busiest seasons in recent memory, with some notable arrests and fire-rescue incidents, officials said. Now the off-season provides time to reflect, train and plan for what’s to come, they said.

Vehicle burglaries continue to be one of the top issues for the Palm Beach police, said department spokesman Capt. Will Rothrock.

Car thieves are quick to spot the signs of an unlocked vehicle, he said. The department continues to encourage residents to be on their toes. “From a top-down perspective, I think that we feel like we’re gaining traction with the resident and auto burglary prevention,” he said.

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Palm Beach Police Capt. Will Rothrock discusses recent auto thefts

Captain Will Rothrock of the Palm Beach Police Department discusses recent automobile thefts on the Island and how residents can help combat them.

Police encourage residents and visitors to call the department whenever they see something suspicious, Rothrock said, noting that even when no crime is committed, officers appreciate being notified of the possibility. Town officials hope to put themselves in a position where the community is prepared, through awareness, increased patrols and the department’s Burglary Strike Force, Rothrock said.

“Hopefully we see less of this here in the town of Palm Beach, and they decide to go somewhere else,” he said of would-be thieves.

Traffic also continues to be a problem, Rothrock said. Police are working with several other town departments, including public works, to find solutions, he said, pointing to how the town worked with the Coast Guard to adjust the opening schedules for the three Intracoastal bridges.

“We think that was a positive, but there’s always more work to be done,” Rothrock said.

Palm Beach Fire Rescue continues to work to educate people about the danger of falls, said department spokesman Assistant Chief Joseph Sekula. Since Oct. 1, the town’s fire rescue department received 108 calls about people who had fallen, he said. For the same period the year before, from Oct. 1 to May 1, there were 98 calls, he said.

“It continues to be one of our top medical calls for service, year after year,” Sekula said.

To help residents better understand any potential risks in their home or workplace, Sekula said Palm Beach Fire Rescue has a fall prevention program run by Community Education Coordinator Kristen Ruest. “We come to your house and put a customized program together where we walk through the house, identify all the trip hazards… and sharp corners,” he said. The team also identifies anything that might be able to be moved to provide more open access, as well as places where handrails could be installed to prevent falls, he said.

To schedule a fall prevention home visit, Sekula said to call Ruest at 561-262-0235.

The department also receives a lot of calls to respond to fire alarms that are activated, Sekula said. In many cases, the home is having some construction done and some dust or debris gets into the alarm and triggers it, he said. To prevent this, residents should have any crews working in their homes cover the smoke detectors, he said.

Technology helps to improve public safety

As the town looks for solutions to common public safety issues, police and fire rescue teams are using technology more frequently to solve crimes and keep residents and visitors safe, officials said.

An example of that was seen in January, when a man broke into a home on Everglade Avenue while the residents were there. To find the person who broke into the house and then stole one of the home’s cars, police used surveillance video and collaborated with neighboring agencies to track the stolen car, and the car in which the man’s alleged accomplices were riding, police said.

Palm Beach detectives also obtained a search warrant for video from a Tesla that was used in the crime — one of the first search warrants for Tesla video in the county, Rothrock said.

“We don’t have occupied burglaries very often, and we took that very seriously,” he said.

Two people were arrested in connection with the break-in, records show.

Police and fire officials are also looking forward to a new computer-aided dispatch and records management system that was approved by the Town Council this past season and paid for through a donation from the Palm Beach Police and Fire Foundation, Rothrock said. The new system will work with the town’s current surveillance cameras and license-plate readers to allow for quicker response times, he said. That will take a year to a year and a half to roll out, he added.

In addition, the town is replacing its public safety communications system, going from Harris Corp.’s OpenSky technology to Motorola Solutions under a $3 million contract. As part of that, the portable radios will also be replaced, Rothrock said.

“That should give us greater connectivity throughout the island,” he said. It will also provide the department a better idea of ​​where its resources are, making situations safer for officers and residents, he said.

Another foundation donation paid for automated external difibrillators, or AEDs, that residents can request to have in their homes, Sekula said. Supplies are limited and training is available for the AEDs and also for CPR by contacting Ruest, he said.

Summer offers training opportunities

The off-season offers opportunities for updates and training that cannot be done when Palm Beach is packed, officials said. “We stack the off-season with a lot of training,” Sekula said. “It gives us the opportunity to do some of the training and some of the other things we can’t get to for the rest of the year.”

The summer is the perfect time for advanced training, including joint training between the town’s police and fire rescue departments, Rothrock said. Each year, the departments work together on active shooter or active assailant training, which can take place in schools or houses of worship when fewer people will be there, he said.

Fire Rescue also has a full slate of trainings scheduled for employees, including advanced cardiac life support certifications that need to be renewed every two years, and water rescue training that incorporates scenarios in the ocean to practice techniques, including preventing drowning and rescuing people from rip currents, Sekula said.

Confined-spaces training coming up this summer will bring together the fire rescue and public works departments in Palm Beach to prepare for possible emergencies, he said. “They’re the ones who are below grade, working on infrastructure,” Sekula said of the public works employees. “We want to make sure that they know what to look out for and how to be as safe as possible.”

Both teams will simulate scenarios so crews can practice rescue strategies, he said.

“We definitely have a lot of training scheduled in the next few months,” Sekula said.

Fire station work continues

Work on the town’s North Fire Station, which over its 100-year life suffered major water damage that led to mold, is moving along on schedule, Sekula said. The project, which is slated to cost at least $17 million as of January, is on schedule to be completed in October, he said.

More: Palm Beach approves additional design services for North Fire Station renovation

The building at 300 N. County Road is “dried in,” meaning it is waterproof and construction on the interior is underway, Sekula said. “Right now we are in the process of looking through all of the interior finishes, picking paint colors, furnishings,” he said. “We’re in the interior design phase.”

Work on the station, which was landmarked in 1988, was approved in 2021. Once demolition began, officials quickly realized the extent of mold damage and water infiltration was more than anticipated. The department is excited about the progress being made on construction, Sekula said.

“It’s a 100-year-old building, and they’re building it to last us another 100 years,” he said.

Kristina Webb is a reporter for Palm Beach Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at [email protected]. Subscribe today to support our journalism.

 
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