Pa. ambulances post near schools to foil child abductions
Operation Safe Walk positions ambulances in plain sight near schools to deter additional child luring attempts
By Rochel Leah Goldblatt
READING, Pa. — Kutztown Area Transport Service has teamed up with other Berks County ambulance agencies to create "Operation Safe Walk" to add another line of defense for students walking to and from schools.
Kutztown Area Transport Service started March 18 stationing ambulances in plain sight near the schools during arrival and dismissal times and they were joined Wednesday by ambulances from Exeter, Fleetwood, Hamburg, Blandon, Boyertown, Topton and Southern Berks.
This operation began as a response to a spate of attempted child lurings that started in January around the county.
"By putting our ambulance there, it creates another sort of official presence," said Phil Salamone, Kutztown Area Transport Service assistant chief. "Hopefully, it will deter whoever is doing this and police can concentrate on catching him."
Salamone said the program would continue until the end of the school year or until the person or persons committing the attempted lurings are caught.
"As soon as I announced the idea they (other agencies) were all for it," Salamone said. "So far it's going well. Nothing else has occurred."
Exeter Ambulance Association President Jon Herbsleb said the whole purpose of joining Operation Safe Walk is to make sure children get to where they need to be and are safe when they get there.
"Awareness is the key to prevention," he said. "We want to give back as much as the community gives us. (We want to) show the united presence that we will not stand for anyone causing havoc or discord within our communities."
Police said there have been about 20 attempted luring or suspicious activity cases near schools or bus stops reported since Jan. 27 in Exeter, Amity, Bern, Cumru, Spring townships; Reading, Pottstown, Shillington and Wyomissing.
If no one is caught, Salamone said, Kutztown would continue to help keep children safe in the future as well.
"If that's what it takes, then that's what it takes," he said.
He said emergency services are a unique system because they are only busy when actively on a call, so they are able to help in other ways through Operation Safe Walk.
"This time they're not spending on calls can be utilized to help the public in other ways," Salamone said. "It's using whenever our ambulances aren't on another assignment."
The time logged at the schools will be during the regular work day, and Salamone said his ambulance crews were happy to help.
"Our kids should be able to walk safely outside," he said, adding that there is no bus services in a lot of areas and kids have to walk to and from school.
Herbsleb stated that anyone seeing anything suspicious should report it immediately and parents should let their kids know that they can report suspicious behavior to any of the ambulance personnel.
©2015 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.)