Pittsburgh chief promoted to emergency management coordinator
News of Fire Chief Darryl Jones’ promotion was first made Friday as the chief helped lead the response efforts to the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones, a career firefighter whose decade-plus tenure in the city culminated in helping lead the response to the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse in recent days, took over as the city’s emergency management coordinator on Monday.
The promotion was officially announced as Mr. Jones was at the site of the collapse, and in an interview with the Post-Gazette, he said he hasn’t had much time to think of his goals for the position, but he said he thinks it’s a “natural progression” for a career dedicated to responding to emergencies.
“On Friday, when this incident happened at the bridge, it was go time,” Mr. Jones said.
In addition to continuing his duties as fire chief, Mr. Jones will supervise the city’s Office of Emergency and Management, tasked — when emergencies come — with coordinating between fire, police and EMS, county, state and federal partners and non-governmental entities like the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Mr. Jones has served as fire chief since 2007, appointed by former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. It was a special boost to a career that started in his hometown of Aliquippa, He became a firefighter there in the late 1980s, then became its first-ever African-American fire chief in 1995. He made the same history in Pittsburgh.
Credentialed as a municipal emergency management professional in Pennsylvania and as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Type-3 Incident Commander, Mr. Jones has been preparing for and responding to disasters for years.
Then, Friday morning, he got the call: a bridge had collapsed in Pittsburgh. At first, he thought, “Maybe they mean a small bridge like a trestle or something,” he recalled. But he soon found that wasn’t the case when he heard on his radio that a bus had gone down with the bridge.
Emergency responders went into “response mode,” Mr. Jones said — making it their top priority to rescue any survivors and keep people who weren’t involved in the incident from becoming victims.
“We automatically switched into that mode and away we went,” Mr. Jones said. “The good news is, no one lost their lives.”
From September 2021: Listen to Chief Jones on the Side Alpha Podcast
Mr. Jones said he suspects there were no life-threatening injuries, either, because of the way the bridge collapsed. It didn’t topple over or toss vehicles off the side, he said — so “they didn’t fall a great distance.”
Now on the scene, the focus is on coordinating with all the entities involved, including the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, the National Transportation Safety Board, the contractor tasked with removing the vehicles and county, state and federal authorities.
In the future, Mr. Jones said he wants to work on creating an incident management team to corral resources behind the scenes when an emergency or large event happens. The team would include financial administrators, logistics managers and experts on incident management, he said — which would also help free up first responders to do their jobs.
A team like that in place “would have been nice to have” in response to the bridge collapse, but it didn’t hamper their effort, he said.
Asked about the threat of bridge incidents in the future, Mr. Jones said, “We have multiple threats we need to be concerned with,” referring to all kinds of natural disasters a city could face. Flooding is at the top of his mind, he said.
Events like bridges collapsing are “low frequency, high impact” events, Mr. Jones said, but something that officials need to prepare for and mitigate, if possible. He said infrastructure money coming into the region should help to repair bridges.
“If mitigation doesn’t work, then we have to be ready to respond,” Mr. Jones said, “and that’s what our first responders and public safety department is assigned to do.”
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