Director of Safety and Security Bill Grutzmacher, Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik, and Fire Chief Patrick Dolgos will meet regularly to plan ways to improve drills and responses for emergency scenarios within schools
The Chiefs’ Roundtable met for the first time last week, bringing Bill Grutzmacher, director of safety and security for the Washington Township Public School District, Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik and Fire Chief Patrick Dolgos together to discuss ways to improve security and emergency response within the schools. The three will meet regularly throughout the year.
Their conversation was based primarily on training, communication and emergency preparation among the school district, police and fire departments.
“This is about making our schools safer. We have a new fire chief, new police chief, and we have to be prepared for anything that takes place inside the schools; we are, but we want to make it better,” Grutzmacher said. “We’re not hopeful that something happens, but we have to be prepared. You’re only as good as your preparation.”
“The schools are the center of our neighborhood, so it benefits everybody if they are safe. The learning facilities have to be sanctuaries for safe learning so that kids are able to not worry about anything other than what they are there for — an education,” Gurcsik said.
According to Grutzmacher, Washington Township High School is believed to be the largest gathering of people in Gloucester County during school hours, which he said could cause a concern for everyone.
“There’s a lot of uniqueness to our facilities. They are very large, so some of the issues I’d like to address in these meetings is to have a plan, regardless of the type of crisis we are encountered with, so we know our roles and responsibilities, from just the basic response to the incident management side of it,” Dolgos said.
The police and fire departments have access to the radio system used through the school district to communicate during incidents and alarms. Dolgos said he’d like to be able to organize a traffic plan so during various times of the day, there will be communication in regard to where to approach, enter and get into position. Moving forward, he’d like to discuss fire code and code enforcement within the schools and facilities.
“We’ve encountered on several occasions that we will get a fire alarm at a school during certain times when they are off-loading or picking up students and access to the school is nearly impossible,” Dolgos said. “I’d like to come up with a plan because, right now, if a significant event occurs at those times, it’s going to hinder our ability to get in and do what we need to do.”
“We’re just trying to keep the lines of communication open and plan to work better together in the future to get the job done. You can’t put a price on the safety of our kids,” Gurcsik said.
For their ideas to be implemented, however, the roundtable would need approval from the district, superintendent and, in certain situations, the council and mayor.
Grutzmacher and Gurcsik would like to try to implement officers, as well as staff of the fire department, to perform walk-throughs of the schools to familiarize themselves with the buildings, the staff and students.
“The chief and I have had conversations where we’d like the police to go into the schools when they are free and have a couple minutes just to walk through the buildings,” Grutzmacher said.
“I want it to become a habit so when a teacher sees a police officer in the hallway, they don’t panic; I would want them to know that police will be walking through the schools every day,” Gurcsik said.
Grutzmacher, prior to his position in the district, worked with the Philadelphia Police Department for 29 years. He joined the department in 1970 and worked most of his career as a lieutenant in patrol uniform. Grutzmacher was working in internal affairs his last year before retiring in 1999. It was then he applied for the position at Washington Township Public Schools and was hired.
Dolgos also has a law enforcement background having worked for the police department prior to transitioning into the fire district. Dolgos joined the fire department when he was 16 years old, spending 17 years as a volunteer before being hired as a captain. Last March, he took the position as chief. This is his 32nd year working with the fire department. He has also had a background in emergency medical services and hazardous material clean-up.
Gurcsik entered law enforcement as a police explorer with the Boy Scouts of America, having had Dolgos as a leader in the program. Gurcsik went through the ranks as patrolman, special officer, a call-taker, dispatcher, sergeant and lieutenant. Gurcsik was appointed as chief of police earlier this year.
“The only way to get things moving is to talk and bring information to our superiors. We’re trying to work as a team, and that’s important. I’m looking forward to this relationship,” Grutzmacher said.