The Laflin property involved in an Oct. 25 triple fatal fire is a prime example of the continued need for address changes, said Luzerne County 911 Data/Tech Support Manager Andrew Zahorsky.
The burning house was at 60 Oakwood Drive, but the structures on each side had odd-numbered addresses of 9 and 15, Zahorsky said.
Emergency crews had no problem getting to the scene because the house was on fire, but Zahorsky questions what would have happened if the call there had been for someone having a heart attack.
“An ambulance could end up driving up and down the road trying to find number 60,” Zahorsky said.
In situations like this, the county 911 now sends written letters to municipalities informing them of address problems and proposing a solution to fix them, he said.
The initiative was part of a county council 911 inquiry committee’s 2015 recommendations, he said. The temporary committee had been created to dissect problems impeding emergency response after complaints about delays and at least two instances of crews dispatched to the wrong location for emergencies in which the subjects died.
Under state protocol, county 911 departments can’t force municipalities to change addresses, said county 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans.
However, the letters now being sent put municipalities on notice that they will assume liability if a problem occurs after they refuse to correct an address issue brought to their attention, Zahorsky said.
Residents usually dislike the hassle of incorporating an address change in their records, but Zahorsky said municipal officials have been placing public safety first.
“We have not had any municipality at this point flat out say no since we started this addressing program,” he said.
In addition to Oakwood Drive, 911 plans to approach Laflin officials about options to correct confusing numbers on Market Street, Main Street and Laflin Road.
Duryea officials are contemplating a suggestion to rename Foote Street because 911 pointed out Foote Avenue also runs through the borough. Both have at least one duplicate address number, which would create a problem if the wrong suffix is provided, Zahorsky said.
The numbers on Center Street, also in Duryea, should be changed because they are “all mixed up” sequentially and include both even and odd ones on the same side, he said.
Many municipalities increasingly rely on outside emergency responders when local crews are tied up or unavailable, and these ambulance and fire crews may be unaware of local address anomalies, he said.
“The last thing you want to do is have any kind of delay because of numbering,” Zahorsky said.
Zahorsky highlighted three examples of successful address changes implemented since the 911 inquiry committee.
• In West Wyoming, some properties had Shoemaker Avenue addresses, even though they could only be accessed from a different road, he said. The road along these structures was named Marshall Lane, he said.
• Addresses on Slocum Avenue in Exeter were changed because they previously went up and back down several times “like a rollercoaster” with no logic, he said.
The new numbers are now sequential on Slocum and do not conflict with those when the street becomes Shoemaker Avenue in West Wyoming, he said. Orderly ranges were particularly important because many local residents still refer to the entire stretch of both roads as the “Back Road,” he said.
• Pittston Township officials agreed to change addresses on Glendale Road so they don’t conflict with those on a portion of the route in Lackawanna County.
Discussions about other changes are pending in several more municipalities, Zahorsky said.
During the 2015 inquiry review, Rosencrans said eliminating same-named streets in multiple municipalities has always been a department pursuit.
County records show there are 7,570 properties in numerous municipalities at addresses with “Main” street, road or highway. Another example: there are 1,159 properties along drives, streets, lanes and roads with “Oak” in the name.
The county’s high number of municipalities — 76 — with many containing duplicate names — such as Dallas borough and township — adds to the confusion, Zahorsky said. Many 911 callers use mailing addresses that don’t correspond with their physical location and are unaware of their official municipality boundaries, he said.
“There are plenty of changes that have to be done, and slowly but surely, we’re tackling them,” Zahorsky said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.