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Sheriff's captain takes blame for siren mishap

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Mike Heine
January 9, 2008
— Walworth County Sheriff’s Department Communications Capt. Jay Maritz took responsibility for not turning on the tornado warning sirens in 10 Walworth County communities Monday afternoon.

“This one was strictly my issue,” Maritz said. “We’ve taken steps now so it won’t be an issue in the future.”


At the 911 dispatch console inside the Walworth County Law Enforcement Center, Maritz told a dispatcher to press one necessary button but failed to have the dispatcher press another button needed to reach municipalities dispatched by the county.


The sirens did not sound automatically from the sheriff’s department signal in Genoa City, Elkhorn, Darien, Fontana, Sharon, East Troy, Williams Bay, Delavan Township, Geneva Township, Linn Township and a privately maintained siren at the Country Estates subdivision in Lyons Township.


Walworth, Sharon and Fontana set their sirens off manually.


“That’s part of the problem with putting everything into one nest egg,” Fontana Police Chief Steve Olson said of the situation.


Fontana usually sets off its sirens manually if someone is around, but it does rely on the county for backup, Olson said.


To make sure the sheriff’s department doesn’t make the mistake in the future, all dispatchers will be retrained, and Sheriff David Graves hopes to run tests throughout the county.


Genoa City, miles away from where a destructive tornado touched down in Kenosha County, had several calls asking why there wasn’t a warning, according to village officials.


The village safety committee, police department and fire department will review protocols for turning on the sirens there manually during a weather emergency, Fire Chief Brad Poltermann said.


“We’ve probably not reviewed that in about three years,” he said. “We’ll probably sit down and review it and make sure there’s a backup plan in place … if it does happen again.”


Other communities where the sirens didn’t go off are following suit, according to police and fire officials.


The county will run a siren test at noon on Saturday, Feb. 2. Maritz doesn’t expect any further problems.



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