(Click HERE for additional pictures) Onteora,or ‘Land of the Sky’ is the name that the American Indians gave to the Catskill region. With its scenic mountainous terrain, trout filled streams, abundant green forests, and fresh, clean air, it is a far cry from the city’s panorama of smog and congestion. It is to this region that the tens of thousands of souls make their way every summer to enjoy a season of relaxation and recreation. Beneath the serene setting, however, safety hazards presented by nature itself, as well as manmade perils abound.
Just before the actual ‘vacation season’ sets upon the region, local law, safety and health officials hold a meeting in order to discuss pertinent issues. This year, the Yeshiva World was invited by Rabbi Bernard Freilich, special assistant to the Superintendent of the New York State Police to attend the conference at the Monticello Municipal Building on Tuesday, June 20.
Chaired by the Sullivan County Legislator, Jodi I. Goodman, those that attended included Sullivan County Sheriff Michael A. Schiff, State Police Captain James Boylaln, Commissioner of Public Safety Richard M. Martinkovic, Special Assistant to the Superintendent of the New York State Police Rabbi Bernard Freilich, Vice President and CEO of Catskill Regional Medical Center Nicholas J. Lanza, Representatives from the Misaskim Organization, Chaplain of Sullivan Couty Sheriff Department Rabbi Simcha Bernard, Representatives of Bikur Cholim Partners in Health, EMS Coordinator Gregory J. Tavormina, Conservation Police, Fish & Wildlife Representative Carl Lindsley, Catskill’s Hatzolah coordinator Baruch Gibbs, among many others.
Although the meeting had many features to it, the main gist was to “make it happen”, to organize and prepare for a safe, coordinated summer. To their credit, local authorities gave it their best shot to accommodate everyone in the most pleasant manner as possible.
First on the agenda was the problem that bears present. Carl I. Lindley took the chair by relating how the bear population is growing rapidly. Last year (2006) alone, there were 150 reports of bear sightings, but this year the number of calls in its’ regard has already been reached – and it is only JUNE!!
Lindley advised those who spot a bear NOT TO CALL 911! 911 is only for emergencies, such as bodily harm or life endangerment cases. Additionally, he said that extra care should be exercised to minimize the possibility of bears in public places. Garbage pails on campgrounds and bungalow colonies should be emptied daily, as the bears are attracted to food scraps. Bird feeders also are a significant problem, enticing bears into the area.
Besides the challenges presented by the bear population, Lindley said that coyotes, pose a threatening presence, citing the instance where a coyote attacked one person in the state of New Jersey, resulting in wounds that required 47 stitches.
Coyotes resemble German Shepards, tend to have rabies, and instinctively go after bats and other small pets. If encountered by a coyote, the smart choice of action is to chase it away; they will typically run off.
The following topic on the agenda was the issue of allowing the landfill to remain open on the weekends in order to facilitate a quicker garbage disposal, especially in view of the fact that the frum community’s main garbage volume is over Shabbos. Presently, the garbage is removed by privately-owned companies and they cannot work on the weekends due to the closed landfills.
The discussion turned to the relationship between the local Catskill Regional Medical Center, formally known as Harris Hospital, and the frum community. It is heartening to know that everything possible is being done to ensure that both sides are working together, hand in hand. Mr. Nicholas Lanza informed The Yeshiva World that numerous steps have been taken to make this a reality. Among them is the acquisition of the Life Net 7-5 helicopter (medevac), stationed at the Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC), twenty-four hours a day, all year round. This vital medical transport unit is accessible for all trauma emergencies.
As one of only six hospitals in New York State to have their own chopper, The CRMC has established a new trauma response team that works conjunctively with the Westchester County Trauma Center at the Valhalla Hospital.
The CRMC also has included a kosher menu to its meals and designated a chesed room on the 4th floor of the hospital to accommodate frum families of patients. It also has incorporated a patient advocate program with frum liaisons available from June 20 until September 19. Additionally, 200 staff members underwent a mandatory cultural sensitivity training provided by Birkur Cholim and the Catskill Hatzolah members at the Flatbush Hatzolah Garage in order to impart an awareness, an understanding and an insight into the Jewish patient presence.
The next topic was issues pertaining to the police, addressed by the State Police Captain Boylan. Boylan mentioned a phenomenal plan that was being implemented, whereby all camps and bungalow colonies would be notified of an emergency via a thought out network – even on Shabbos. The catalyst for the strategy was the terrible incident that was reported by the YW (HERE) where a man shot his gun in a Jewish Center in Seattle last year during the Israel/Lebanon War. State police were concerned that the incident would have repercussions in the Catskill region and they wanted to notify the Jewish public to take precautions, however, due to the Shabbos they were in a dilemma. Driving to hundreds of camps and colonies over the next 24 hours, notification was provided in a most inefficient manner.
Anyone who has relevant information, should report it either to the Special Assistant to the NY State Police, Rabbi Bernard Freilich, at 917-492-7135, or fax it to 917-492-7134, or to the Association of Jewish Camp Operators through Rabbi Meir Frischman, at 917-754-0077, or fax it to 892-292-6434.
In the near future, GPS will be installed in all state trooper vehicles, where all camps and colonies will be featured.
The State Police Captain told the YW that currently there are NO credible threats to the frum Jewish community from an Islamic Camp in the Catskills called Islamberg (reported HERE on YW), but they are being closely watched and THAT IS EXACTLY why this new emergency notification system has been put into place.
The 911 issue was next on the meeting’s agenda. In the month of July of 2006 alone, the police received over 500 calls. Children should be supervised in order to eliminate unwarranted phone alerts and should never be given cell phones to play with. If the police are summoned in error, they should be notified immediately. People need to be aware that on any occasion that someone calls 911 and hangs up, contact is attempted on the landline; if there is no response, a patrol car MUST be dispatched.
Unfortunately, due to this phenomenon, a situation similar to ‘the boy who cried wolf’ occurred. Due to the high volume of false alerts last summer, police did not respond appropriately to a true call for help.
The police captain also told the YW that there will be ZERO tolerance for anyone driving in a car without a seatbelt, with tinted windows, and that there will be ZERO tolerance for hatzolah ‘wannabees’. If an unauthorized person is caught driving with red lights and sirens, he will be arrested and his car will be impounded. Additionally, if an individual witnesses an accident and calls it in to 911, he is asked by police to leave the scene after help arrives.
The new Hatzolah map that is in the makings and scheduled to be completed by the July 1st weekend was also mentioned at the meeting, along with the 110,000 copies of the Center Community Resources fully colored magazine, chockfull of safety tips, that was mailed out. (Check your mailbox!)
Amid the natural beauty of the Monticello setting in the Catskill Mountain region, the 2007 pre-summer meeting of local law, safety and health officials, ended on a promising note. As witness to the symposium, The Yeshiva World can attest that the local government representatives in Sullivan County are doing everything they possibly can to make this summer precede smoothly, easily and safely.
The Yeshiva Word wishes all of its readers a truly happy, healthy, enjoyable summer!