Port Deposit's mayor handles three crises in 13 days

It's been a busy two weeks for Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome, who had to contend with three public safety crises, two in his town and the school shooting in Baltimore County where he is a member of the fire service.

First, there was the propane tanker that crashed into a building at Port Deposit's Tome's Landing condos on Aug. 14, requiring the evacuation of some downtown residents.

Then came the crash on the night of Aug. 24 when a gasoline truck crashed and exploded on the south end of Port Deposit, killing the driver.

Three days later, a student shot another student at Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County, and Tome, the fire commander for Baltimore County's east side, helped oversee management of that situation.

Tome, a battalion chief at the Baltimore County Fire Department, said he sent four medic units and two fire units to the high school, standing by while police cleared the building, helped evacuate the school and oversaw the critically wounded student flown to shock trauma.

In addition to the student who was shot, "there were some minor injuries and some illnesses," Tome said, explaining that a couple of people went to the hospital with injuries, such as twisted ankles, during the rapid evacuation of the school's students and faculty.

"It was a little bit chaotic in that regard," he said.

The Perry Hall High School incident was a change from some of the shootings the department has responded to in the past during his tenure, Tome said.

"It's definitely a different setting when you have a school structure and the biggest school in Baltimore County. You have young people involved," Tome said.

The career fire service in Baltimore County, he said, is a "paramilitary organization" and is similar in its discipline to the military, prepared to stay professional in difficult situations.

Unique situations

The two earlier incidents in Port Deposit, he acknowledged, posed a rare threat, even for someone as used to handling emergencies as Tome.

"I don't want to say it's routine, but I work in a metropolitan area and what we have in Port Deposit is very unique, because a lot of people, who work down here [in Baltimore County] in career [firefighting] and see a lot of calls, don't see what we see in Port Deposit," he explained.

Port Deposit's unusual geography and development – the town sits on a narrow strip between the Susquehanna River and a high bluff that rises steeply, barely two blocks from the river – make its problems unique, he said.

Tome says he has been better prepared to respond to potential disasters like the two truck crashes than someone else might be, because he's lived in the town for so long and has been involved in emergency services his entire adult life. In addition to serving as the town's elected mayor, Tome is also chief of the Water Witch Fire Company, the volunteer company that serves the town and surrounding area.

"It's a comfort, personally, to be able to do that for the town and it's rewarding for the town," Tome said. "It kind of added value to being the mayor, that I have the background that I do."

"A lot of elected officials think that they automatically become public safety experts and experts in everything as soon as they get elected," he continued. "That leads to chaos sometimes because they try to delve into something that they have never been trained in."

Tome sounded professional and calm as he talked about the latest incidents, adding it is all on top of the "run-of-the-mill" problems in Port Deposit.

Crisis management

He was on duty at his job in Baltimore County when the Aug. 14 truck crash occurred in his hometown some 35 miles away, but Tome said at the time he was in contact with Cecil County emergency officials, the sheriff's office and his own volunteer fire company. Tome later said he was satisfied the way the incident was handled safely and orderly, including the evacuation of the area of town where the propane tanker overturned until the situation could be stabilized.

Tome wasn't far away when the fatal gasoline tanker crash and explosion occurred last Friday night. He was working to shore up a home farther north on Main Street that had been abandoned following a foreclosure. Though the driver of the truck was killed and power was cut off to much of the town overnight, there were no other injuries or damage to buildings.

Tome said earlier this week he plans to meet with the Cecil County Sheriff's Office and other stakeholders to help better enforce the restriction on trucks over five tons from entering the town.

"The rule has only been in place for three months," he noted. "We are trying to do our best to try to beef up the enforcement."

Tome said many truck drivers think they can save a minute and avoid the bridge toll on I-95 by cutting through Port Deposit to Conowingo Dam, and they try to get away with breaking the new law, which Tome said will take time to get used to.

"It's kind of like with any rule," he said.

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