BHI Public Safety Department
While the Boy Scouts’ motto is “Be Prepared,” it might be safe to say that the Village of Bald Head Island Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) motto is “Be Prepared – For Anything.”
The DPS is a ‘combined’ department, meaning that all public safety officers are cross-trained on the disciplines of fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement and water rescue. When officers begin their 24 hour shifts, they never know what types of calls they might be asked to respond to. Therefore, they need to be prepared for almost anything.
Each officer is issued several sets of equipment that are specifically fitted to him/her. A duty belt and bullet proof vest for law enforcement. Medical supplies/gear for emergency medical services. A helmet, jacket, pants, boot, mask, etc., to combat structure fires. A different set of fire protection to combat wildland fires. And, finally, a helmet, ropes, fins and mask for water rescue. On a practical level, all of this gear must always accompany them from the minute they arrive on the Island until their departure at the end of their shifts.
The new uniforms unveiled in late April have even been selected with this quad-function in mind. For instance, the pants are made of a new fabric designed to repel fluids or even water in the event of a water rescue.
In terms of training, being prepared for any type of call has also required a significant commitment on the part of the officers, many of whom have undergone hundreds of hours of training to be certified in more than one discipline.
The Village has been executing its plan for a combined DPS since 2009. Village officials believe they have turned the corner in terms of the transition and, while there are some “sizeable procedures” yet to work out, “We are a full-time public safety department,” said Caroline Mitchell, the newly sworn director of public safety.
Today, the DPS runs on a four shift schedule and is supported by about 40 volunteers and 30 members of the Public Service Auxiliary. Other Village staff provide administrative and operational support as well. Of the approximately 50 Village employees, about half support some function of the DPS. The Village of BHI is one of only three municipalities in North Carolina to have a combined public safety force.
Mitchell says, “The Department of Public Safety is unique and is an answer to a community who wants to provide the best resources and best trained people to areas that are location challenged.” And, that certainly describes Bald Head.
Combining the functions, as it turns out, has created efficiencies in terms of staff and the gear and equipment needed for additional staff. However, it’s also required a great deal of work to develop a new organizational structure – identifying who responds to what calls, for example – determine what gear/ equipment is needed and develop and execute a plan for cross-training DPS staff.
What’s next for the DPS? More visible presence on the streets of Bald Head as well as more public education and awareness.
Director Mitchell and her staff invite property owners and visitors alike to stop by the Public Safety Operations Building near the intersection of Edward Teach and Muscadine Wynds. Let the kids see how the firetrucks work. Talk with the public safety officers. Check out their gear and equipment. Get a firsthand look at how they work hard to be prepared –
Call 457-5252 if you would like to register any existing health issues with the PSD so they can respond with background information.
Click HERE to see the Public Safety Officers of Bald Head Island.