Pitch made for purchase of portable morgue for Piscataquis County

Posted April 05, 2011, at 8:32 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — No one region of the nation is immune to mass casualty incidents, so emergency response officials want Piscataquis County to be prepared.

Piscataquis County commissioners on Tuesday heard a pitch for the purchase of a portable morgue to be used in the event a disaster occurs that results in multiple deaths. Tom Iverson Jr., director of the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency, sought and received permission to look for a grant to pay for the estimated $70,000 unit.

No other county has such a unit, he said.

‘’If we had a mass disaster, what are we going to do, and how are we going to handle the situation?’’ Iverson said.

That question was raised at meetings of Greenville’s Public Safety Committee and during mock disaster exercises, according to Iverson. He said discussions with the committee and police in Greenville, Milo, Dover-Foxcroft and Brownville resulted in the recommendation for a portable “rack morgue” that can keep 16 bodies cooled at one time.

‘’We’re hoping we’ll never have to use it,’’ Iverson said.

Greenville Police Chief Jeff Pomerleau said Tuesday that he began thinking about the need for such a unit after a death in Frenchtown Township about six months ago when he learned that the county has a shortage of morgue space.

Pomerleau and Iverson also noted that the county holds a number of events that draw thousands of people annually, including the International Seaplane Fly-in and the United States Cross Country snowmobile races.

‘’We’re looking year-round of things happening here,’’ Iverson said. The potential for disaster comes with any event. ‘’We need something that’s mobile and can go where we need it to go.’’

Commissioner Fred Trask said the probability of a disaster was ‘’pretty slim’’ and noted he was not in favor of spending money for such a unit.

‘’We just can’t afford everything,’’ he said. ‘’You just can’t do everything for everybody. There’s other things that we should be doing that we aren’t doing … that are a little more higher priority than a portable morgue.’’

Commissioner Tom Lizotte said he understood the need. A pandemic flu would be more likely to happen than a mass casualty disaster, but whatever happened, the capacity in the county would be exhausted almost instantly, he said. Both Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft and C.A.Dean Memorial Hospital in Greenville have extremely limited morgue capacity, and even if the funeral homes in the area were considered, there still wouldn’t be much capacity after the first few hours of a disaster, he said. ‘’That does lead to the question: What do you do?’’

Lizotte said he would favor sharing a portable morgue with adjacent counties and having it stored in a larger city, such as Bangor. He encouraged Iverson to collaborate with a surrounding county.

‘’It’s one of those things that most people don’t want to think about, but the second we need something like this, it’s going to be too late to say we should have, would have,’’ Pomerleau said. ‘’People are going to expect us to have these answers if and when something like this does happen.’’

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