Reliable communication helping Ironton Police keep community safe, combat an opioid crisis

by Pamela Wagner - Chief of Police, Ironton, Ohio

February 19, 2021

Ironton used to be a booming iron ore and steel town. It’s approximately seven square miles – bordered on one side by the Ohio River; by county property to our east; the Village of Coal Grove to our south; and the Village of Hanging Rock to our north.

We have great people who live here. Sports is a very big thing here on the river. We have our Ironton High School Fighting Tigers. We have Cincinnati two hours away, so we have a lot of baseball and football fans. And Wayne National Forest is about ten minutes from us. So, we get a lot of hikers and people who like to camp.

We also have an opioid epidemic that has skyrocketed in the last several years.

Most of the departments in Lawrence County are smaller departments. So, we depend on each other when it comes to emergency calls. With just 15 sworn officers – counting me and two detectives – we need to have reliable communication.

That’s why we got on FirstNet®.

Getting on FirstNet

When FirstNet came out, I personally got it on my phone when I became chief three years ago. I loved the service. I said, “This is what we need for my department.” And we're building on that. Now our MDTs all go through FirstNet. Our department phones go through FirstNet. It has been a tremendous help to us.

Before we went to FirstNet, everybody was on a different kind of phone. Different carriers. We had coverage issues. We had throttling issues. When we went to FirstNet, that resolved that problem.

Information and communication are key in emergency services. We've got to be able to communicate. So, when we solved that throttling issue and connectivity issue, that was huge for our department.

Dealing with an opioid crisis

Most of our policing is around the opioid crisis here in Ironton. I don’t know a family in this town, even on a personal level, that this crisis has not affected. We are in the heart of Appalachia, even though we are still in Ohio. We are ten minutes away from Huntington, W.V.; less than five minutes away from Ashland, Ky. We’re less than two minutes away from Russell, Kentucky, just across the bridge.

So we are in the heart of an opioid crisis.

Our drug guys use FirstNet for communication with our fire departments and our EMS. Officers carry Narcan, a medication used for the emergency treatment of a suspected opioid overdose. We are not EMTs, even though we are first aid certified. But we can get information to our EMS and our fire department in a split second. So, it's like they're right there on the ground with us until their arrival. 

When our drug units are out there working, they need accurate information. They work a lot with the CUFF Task Force [Cops United Felony Fugitive Enforcement Division]. We have an officer who’s a Deputy U.S. Marshal. 

Meeting the community’s needs

We also have events like Rally on the River. That’s a large motorcycle event that happens every year in August. Our small town of about 11,000 people swells to between 30,000 and 50,000 people when we have that event going on.

During the rally a few years ago, we were throttled to where we had very limited connectivity. And we've got to be able to communicate. We've got to be able to have somebody answer a phone, share information and make sure everybody's on the same page. That's why we switched to FirstNet.

You have a lot of people on motorcycles. If they have wrecks, those are life-and-death situations. Or if you have officers trying to break up a fight or deal with an intoxicated person, they've got to be able to reach another officer so that officer can come and help.

We have the largest running Memorial Day parade in the United States that happens in our city every year. It’s happened for 153 years. Again, that's an event where the town goes from 10,000 to about 35,000 people. We have to be able to speak with one another, handle traffic control, look for kids who wandered away from their parents.

FirstNet helped us with that immensely because we were able to have that communication with one another and get information to one another instantly. We can do photos, videos, anything that we need to do, with our FirstNet service.

The right call

It is imperative for us to be able to communicate not only with our own department, but with other departments as well. We assist the Village of Hanging Rock, the Village of Coal Grove, the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office, as they do us. We also work with surrounding agencies in Kentucky, like Russell, Ashland, Huntington.

People who work in the city also use this service. So, we're able to communicate with them, and with Portsmouth, our sister city just down the road.

We're the police. Our job is to help people. And you help people when you have the right information in a timely manner and you're able to get it to the right person. The value is immeasurable for that. 

Chief Pamela Wagner was sworn in as the city’s first female police chief in 2017 and has decades of experience in law enforcement. Born and raised in Lawrence County, Ohio, she has worked in the Proctorville Police Department, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and has been with the Ironton Police Department for about 25 years.