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Shifting boundaries bring emergency response uncertainty

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If you get into a crash at a major Center Grove area intersection, who will come to help can depend on whether your car skids just a few feet.

Bargersville firefighters will be called if the crash happens on the west side or the southeast corner of the Whiteland Road and State Road 135 intersection, but the Greenwood Fire Department is responsible for the northeast corner.

Head to the next intersection east on Whiteland, and you’ll run into a similar but even more complicated situation. Greenwood firefighters take care of any accidents or calls on the northwest corner of Honey Creek and Whiteland roads, and Bargersville handles the southwest corner, but the Whiteland Volunteer Fire Department goes to any calls or crashes on the east side of that intersection.

A 911 caller has to report more specific information than an accident happened at Honey Creek and Whiteland roads because any of three departments could be responsible, since that one intersection falls under three different jurisdictions, Bargersville Fire Department Chief Jason Ramey said.

“Who comes could depend on where your car stops after it gets hit,” he said.

Greenwood’s recent annexation south to Whiteland Road carved up the boundaries between fire departments.

The change has caused confusion among local fire departments and emergency dispatchers, who sometimes get mixed up about who’s supposed to respond where, Ramey said.

Response times also could be affected if firefighters are out handling an emergency that they weren’t supposed to go to when another call comes in, Ramey said. Fire departments also can use extra gas while going on runs that aren’t in their jurisdiction.

One issue is that Greenwood and Bargersville have different dispatchers. The 911 calls made from landline phones automatically go to the correct dispatchers, but cellphone calls get routed based on the closest cellular tower and don’t always end up in the right place, Ramey said.

Who’s responsible for running out to a 911 call also can be complicated in places because annexations often have jagged boundaries, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said. The sheriff’s office, for instance, used to have to respond to calls at a few homes right next to the Greenwood Municipal Airport that were surrounded by Greenwood on all sides, but weren’t actually in the city limits.

A similar situation will emerge in Whiteland next year, since the town annexed land east to Interstate 65, but left out a smattering of homes whose owners didn’t want to be annexed, Cox said.

The sheriff’s office no longer would patrol the area but would have to respond to burglaries or other reported crimes at houses surrounded by the town on all sides, he said. Whiteland police, however, would handle a car accident just down the block once the annexation goes through.

Greenwood’s annexation this past year south to Whiteland Road reduced the amount of land included in the Bargersville Fire Protection District and created periodic confusion at a few intersections, Ramey said.

Bargersville firefighters handle the west side of Smokey Row Road and State Road 135, and Greenwood covers the east side of that intersection.

At State Road 135 and Stones Crossing Road, Greenwood firefighters will come if the crash happens at the southeast corner, and Bargersville will be called if it happens at the southwest corner. White River Township firefighters head to the accident scene if it’s on the north side of that intersection.

But if you get into a fender-bender at one of those crossroads, don’t worry about police or firefighters showing up and turning around or doing nothing because it happened in someone else’s jurisdiction. All the agencies work together, and the first one to get to a scene will help, even if it technically doesn’t have jurisdiction, officials said.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies, for instance, wouldn’t just pass by an accident that happened in an area that Greenwood or Bargersville recently annexed, Cox said. The deputy would make sure everyone was OK, call an ambulance if needed and direct traffic around the accident.

An officer from whichever department has proper jurisdiction then would be responsible for finding out what happened and writing the report, Cox said.

Firefighters from different departments also will help each other out on runs, even if that street corner isn’t technically in their jurisdiction, Ramey said.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to go if we’re called or are the closest help,” he said. “If we’re closest and can get to that person fastest, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

Bargersville, Greenwood and neighboring fire departments will work together, regardless of who has jurisdiction at a particular corner of an intersection, Bargersville Fire Protection District Board member Greg Hurrle said.

“The best way I can describe it is that fire and police services are like a spider web,” he said. “They’re going to stretch to any problem that’s in the web.”

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