Stoddard County ambulance director, SEMO Electric in verbal dispute over power outage

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

DEXTER, Mo. -- SEMO Electric Cooperative's response -- or lack thereof according to Stoddard County Ambulance District (SCAD) Director David Cooper -- to the recent ice storm which left thousands in Stoddard County without power was the main topic at Tuesday night's SCAD board of directors meeting.

Left without power to a crucial repeater tower was the SCAD district. According to Cooper, when the tower -- which operates the district's emergency radio system for the entire county -- went down, he immediately contacted SEMO Electric about the problem.

In a letter to SEMO Electric Cooperative's board members dated Thursday, Feb. 14, Cooper explains that at approximately 9 a.m. Feb. 11, he contacted the power company's 800 number to report the power outage at the district's tower.

Cooper states that he explained there is a 24-hour battery backup to the tower, but that power would need to be restored. At that time, Cooper said he was assured that power would be restored sometime that day.

"Going by what we were told, we didn't worry about taking any emergency measures," Cooper told the board members. "However, power wasn't restored that day."

At 10 a.m. Feb. 12, Cooper placed another call to the SEMO Electric 800 number.

"Our battery backup ran for 26 hours and by that time it was down," said Cooper. "I spoke to a Mr. Dawson who was rude and not cooperative at all.

"He informed me that 'the ambulance district will not be given any service different than a private citizen,'" Cooper states in the letter. "I tried to explain that during times of disaster, normally police, fire, ambulance, hospitals, nursing homes, water systems, etc., are given priority to keep the citizens protected," Cooper wrote. "He advised, 'that's not going to happen.'"

Cooper said that during this time, dispatchers were using everything at their disposal, including cellular and land line phones, in order to ensure that calls were being dispatched as normal. By 8 p.m. Feb. 13, when power had still not been restored to the tower, Cooper placed another call to SEMO Electric Cooperative and was put on hold for 10 to 15 minutes and was then informed that "someone would call him back."

At approximately 9:30 p.m., Cooper stated that he did receive a call from SEMO Electric Cooperative General Manager Reuben L. Jeane. Cooper said that Jeane informed him he was to "not step back on SEMO property, because I was harassing the office staff."

Cooper goes on to state that Jeane told him to "stop calling at once" and told him that "it was my fault there was no power as we should have put a generator system up there."

At that time Cooper informed Jeane that the Public Service Commission had received a report against SEMO Electric Cooperative and that those calls were not being responded to as well.

"I have been a SEMO Electric Cooperative customer for over 23 years and as well Stoddard County Ambulance District. I am ashamed to think that this electric organization is not sensitive to the needs of the people of this county," said Cooper. "In my opinion, there was no concern for the safety of the citizens."

Cooper said that the situation was only made worse for him when he watched a television news report in which AmerenUE informed viewers that their number one priority was to keep emergency services, such as police and ambulance, as well as hospitals and nursing homes running at a time when their services would be crucial.

"I think as an emergency manager, this was a complete failure of SEMO Electric Cooperative management," Cooper said in his letter. "Take a lesson from AmerenUE."

Jeane responded to Cooper's letter by listing the number of crews brought in to help restore power to the power company's customers and by explaining the procedures the company uses as a guide during times of power outages.

"No one community or type of service is given priority over another," said Jeane in his letter. "Concerning your specific outage to your repeater tower northeast of Bloomfield, two crews were pulled from restoring services of residences and moved to that location for a total of six hours each day to provide you service to the tower.

"As an emergency service provider of any type, be it electrical power, security, ambulance service or any other emergency service type provider, should ensure that they can remain in operation during all adverse conditions," Jeane continued. "The Cooperative or any electrical utility can't guarantee 100 percent power without outage. Every individual emergency service provider should take prudent action to ensure that they can continue serving the public that they support."

After a lengthy discussion in which board members discussed the feasibility of purchasing a generator for the tower, it was decided that if another situation such as this should arise, the district will have Battles Communications program a repeater for them and they will then lease that tower for whatever time it is needed.

"We could have made other arrangements before our battery backup ran out, but the fact is that [SEMO Electric Cooperative] lied when they told us when the power would be restored," Cooper said.

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