Mount Airy’s Autumn Leaves Festival makes for a busy weekend for area first-responders, but the event brought few issues with which authorities had to tangle.
This past weekend folks packed the streets of Mount Airy. While Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce officials cite the festival as an $8.5 million impact on the local economy, it also impacts local authorities, who have to work coverage for the festival into their normal operations.
“We ran a few calls as a result of the festival,” said Surry County EMS Director John Shelton.
Shelton said calls mostly consisted of folks complaining of respiratory distress. However, at least one patient was transported with chest pains. Other injuries related to walking the festival such as a few falls and allergic reactions to bee stings were also reported. Additionally, there were a few traffic accidents resulting from the heavier traffic flow from the festival.
Shelton said an ambulance crew, consisting of two critical care paramedics each, is placed on both ends of town. A bike crew, with another two paramedics, also works the festival. An all-terrain vehicle equipped with a stretcher is used to transport patients within the festival area.
Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson said his department provides some of the security force for Autumn Leaves, though most of the duties are handled by the Mount Airy Police Department. The sheriff’s office provides five deputies on each of the festival’s three days.
“We don’t do nearly as much as we used to for the event,” said Atkinson. “Those five (deputies) work the street.”
Atkinson said the five deputies are in addition to those working normal patrols for the day. His department uses compensation time to pay deputies for their time spent at the event. Since the county lacks a mechanism to pay overtime, deputies are compensated through days off.
Atkinson said the strain on his department is minimal, but that hasn’t always been the case.
“This is going back 30 years, but we used to deal with a lot more up there,” remarked Atkinson.
The sheriff explained the festival used to bring much drinking and fighting with it. However, the atmosphere has grown much more “family-friendly” in recent decades.
The 2016 festival brought no major issues for Atkinson’s force.
While Atkinson provides five deputies, the impact of festival manning is much greater for city officials, said Mount Airy Police Department Captain Barry VanHoy. The city force provides 12 additional personnel for each day of the festival.
The 2015 festival cost city departments, including police, fire and public works, more than $22,000.
“We budget every year for the overtime hours,” said VanHoy.
VanHoy said the city department has four squads on duty at any given time. The dozen officers manning the festival are pulled from personnel who would otherwise be off duty. Unlike the county force, the city department cannot rely solely on comp time to compensate its officers, so overtime pay is shelled out.
“It went very well,” said VanHoy. “Several folks said Saturday was one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever seen, and nothing terrible happened.”
He said since he joined the force in 1999 there has been the occasional issue with an individual who is intoxicated. However, he has seen none of those issues in recent years. The 2016 festival led only to a few issues regarding parking.
“You will always have those little issues,” said VanHoy.
VanHoy said part of ensuring the festival goes down with few or no problems begins at the planning stages. Planning for festival coverage begins months prior to the event’s kick-off. The department works with other entities such as the Mount Airy Rescue Squad, the Mount Airy Fire Department, the sheriff’s office and EMS to ensure maximum coverage is achieved.
“It really takes a team,” said VanHoy. “We have several meetings leading up to the festival, and everything went really smoothly this year.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.