Pa. town pushes for display of house numbers to decrease emergency response time

"What if you have a call and the ambulance has to try and find your house ... for an emergency reason, a heart attack or something?" Councilman Dino Loprieto said

By Madasyn Czebiniak
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 

BRACKENRIDGE, Pa. — Brackenridge police Chief Jamie Bock wants to be able to help his residents as quickly as possible.

To do that, he needs houses in the borough to have numbers on them.

He said many of them don't. And, if they do, the numbers aren't always visible or sequential.

"As a homeowner, you'd think that you would want to have an address on your house," he said. "People should have their numbers on their houses for obvious reasons—for fire, ambulance and police. It's common sense."

Bock said it takes more time for emergency crews to get to residences that don't have numbers.

"(If) you get a prowler call, you want to try and get there as quickly as you can, but you want to make sure you go to the correct house," the chief said. "There could be somebody, a resident, standing out in their yard in a different address, and you think they're the prowler."

Councilman Dino Lopreiato said Bock shared his concerns with him and other council members during the Nov. 2 council meeting.

Lopreiato agreed houses should have numbers on them.

"What if you have a call and the ambulance has to try and find your house... for an emergency reason, a heart attack or something?" Lopreiato said. "Minutes matter, seconds matter. Not knowing the address, and not seeing an address... could be between life and death."

Lopreiato said council asked Solicitor Craig Alexander to draft an ordinance that would establish rules for house numbers in the borough. Borough Secretary and Treasurer Denise Tocco said she sent copies of the proposed ordinance to council members and they are currently reviewing it.

If it passes, Brackenridge would join a few municipalities in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties that have similar ordinances including Frazer, West Deer, Springdale Borough, Derry Township and Greensburg.

Matt Brown, chief of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services, said there is no county requirement regarding house numbers. It is up to each municipality to set policies or laws for addresses, he said.

The same applies in Westmoreland County.

Still, Brown said, public safety agencies do ask that addresses be boldly displayed so emergency crews can confirm the correct location when responding. He said visible addresses also assist the general public in reporting incidents.

"For instance, someone passing by a home that has smoke or flames showing from a window, they can communicate the visible address when calling 911," Brown said.

Derry's ordinance, which has been in effect since 2004, says that "a thoroughness and uniformity in the posting of street or address numbers throughout the township will aid in the immediate response of police, fire, and medical personnel to situations which pose a threat to such health, safety and welfare."

West Deer Township Manager Daniel Mator said safety is also the reason for his township's ordinance, which has been in place since 1998.

Mator said there have been fatalities in the township in the past because emergency personnel couldn't reach residents in time because of a lack of numbering. He couldn't say if that's why the ordinance was passed.

"A lot of people think it's a huge inconvenience ... but we actually do it for their safety," Mator said.

The city of Greensburg has had a numbering ordinance in place since April 1923.

City Administrator Susan Trout wasn't alive at that time, but believes the reason for the ordinance was likely the same then as it is now—for safety.

"It's all driven by safety," she said. "Everything is dispatched by an address."

Paul Bell, Fox Chapel code enforcement and zoning officer, said the borough doesn't have an ordinance that establishes rules and regulations for addresses on existing houses or commercial properties, but does require new houses and buildings have them as part of the 2009 International Residential and Building Codes.

Fox Chapel police Chief David Laux said, in situations where his officers come across a house without numbers, or were delayed getting to a house because of that, they will go back to the house at another time to talk with the homeowner about putting up numbers or a sign.

"It's been my experience that most people, when approached that way, are more than happy to accommodate us," Laux said.

Municipal officials said even with enhanced technology like GPS and mapping systems, and dispatch centers, house numbers still are needed.

Laux said they're the easiest way for an emergency worker to find a house.

"It's more important for them to be able to see a sign or a lamp post, or a post with the numbers on it, than to be looking at a map on a small, computer screen," Laux said.

Trout and Mator agreed.

"Do you want somebody driving down the street trying to talk to somebody from a 911 call center, or do you just want it to be a logical system: all odds are on one side and all evens are on the other and they go in an actual order?" Mator said.

In addition to emergency personnel, house numbers also assist delivery workers and contractors.

Laux said people have told him, "That might be why I'm not getting my UPS delivery."

"It's not just the police," Laux said. "It's delivery people and workers and contractors ... that rely heavily on that."

Mator, a former pizza delivery driver, said house numbers were "invaluable" when he was trying to do his job.

"Without even thinking, you knew exactly where to go," he said.

Brackenridge's proposed ordinance says anyone who violates it and does not comply within 15 days of a violation notice will have charges filed at the local magistrate. Violators could receive a fine of $300 to $1,000 in addition to other court costs, filing fees and attorney's fees upon conviction. The ordinance also says that each day the violation continues to occur shall constitute a separate violation and cause for a separate fine.

In Derry, violators could face jail time.

According to the ordinance there, those who fail to comply could be fined up to $600 plus the costs of prosecution. If fines aren't paid, violators could spend up to 30 days in jail.

Copyright 2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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