Allegheny County, Pittsburgh open warming centers as extreme cold arrives



Newly inaugurated Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto warned city residents Monday of the dangers of the cold weather, saying public safety "really comes down to Pittsburghers working together and helping each other."

Mr. Peduto brought his chief operations officer Guy Costa and city Public Safety Director Michael Huss to the first news conference of his term in office, and Mr. Huss issued this warning to the public: "I can't stress enough the danger that is bearing down on our city."

Earlier Monday, Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson outlined the region's full-court press against the cold, urging residents to stay inside if possible but assuring he's ready for the worst.

Given the deep freeze, with temperatures dropping to minus-10 degrees or colder Monday night, Allegheny County paramedics treated all 911 calls for medical assistance as life-threatening emergencies. That meant deploying firefighters and police officers any time an ambulance would take too long to arrive.

Additional ambulances were on duty Monday night, Mr. Huss said at the 5 p.m. news conference, adding that the city is most concerned about a loss of utilites -- a power outage or if a gas line were to freeze.

"Don't hesitate to call 911 if someone loses heat in the middle of the night, the furnace goes out, what have you. That's a life-threatening event tonight and warrants a call to 911," he said.

And with the county's Emergency Operations Center whirring to life -- it will coordinate response efforts -- city officials have opened five warming centers to provide help to residents without heat during business hours.

In cases of widespread power outages or other disruptions, those centers can convert to 24/7 shelters to assist affected families.

The city shelters are:

• Greenfield Healthy Acting Living Center, 745 Greenfield Ave. (412-422-6551)

• Homewood Healthy Active Living Center, 7321 Frankstown Ave. (412-244-4190)

• North Side, Allegheny Center Healthy Active Living Center, Allegheny Square (412-323-7239)

• Sheraden Healthy Active Living Center, 720 Sherwood Ave. (412-777-5012)

• South Side Healthy Active Living Center, 12th and Bingham Streets (412-488-8404)

As of this morning, other Allegheny County communities have opened warming centers as well. They included:

• Bethel Park Community Center, 5151 Park Ave.

• Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, 370 Commercial St,

• Carnegie borough building, 1 Veterans Way, pet-friendly.

• Clairton municipal building, 551 Ravensburg Blvd.

• Collier municipal building, 2418 Hilltop Road, Suite 100.

• Heidelberg Community Center opened as a center, 1639 E. Railroad St.

• Ingram municipal building, W. Prospect Ave.

• Leetsdale Community Center, 373 Beaver St.

• McKeesport Palisades/Café, 501 Water St.

• Oakdale, Pittsburgh Technical Institute, 1111 McKee Road.

• Shaler North Hills Library, 1822 Mt. Royal Blvd.

• Verona Police Department, 736 E. Railroad Ave.

• West Deer Fire Department No. 3, 4372 Gibsonia Road, Gibsonia; West Deer Township Dog Shelter (for animals only), 109 East Union Road, Cheswick.

• West Mifflin municipal building, 3000 Lebanon Church Road.

Centers in Munhall also opened Monday night. People going to a Munhall center are asked to bring their own snacks.

• Munhall Fire Station 200, 13th and Martha streets.

• Munhall Fire Station 201, 1900 West St.

• Munhall Fire Station 203, 3401 Main St.

• Munhall Fire Station 204, 1817 Whitaker Way.

This morning, the Salvation Army/Worship & Service Center, 104 East Ninth Ave., Homestead, will open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mr. Peduto stressed the importance of looking out for one another.

"A lot of people don't have the information we're giving, and we've asked neighbors to help assist, to get the word out, especially to senior citizens who are living alone," he said. "We're asking neighbors to stop in and check on them, make sure they're doing OK during the next 72 hours."

In some cases, Pittsburgh officers will also check on the elderly. Officers will also be moving the homeless into shelters and citing residents who have locked their pets outside.

Mr. Huss said the city cannot force homeless people into those shelters.

"These folks don't have Twitter," he said. "They don't have Facebook. We need to communicate to them the danger they're going to face tonight." 

An overnight homeless shelter is available at the Smithfield United Church of Christ, 620 Smithfield St., Mr. Costa said.

Animals left outside will be taken by Animal Control to the Animal Rescue League, 6620 Hamilton Ave.

Clearing up wrecks and responding to fires is even more dangerous in this weather, which is expected to last through Wednesday afternoon.

The Port Authority has agreed to send buses to first responders if needed to serve as mobile warming stations.

County road crews have been out salting the roads since 1 a.m., three hours earlier than a normal cold snap.

Residents should call 211 (countywide) or 311 (just Pittsburgh) if they need non-emergency help regarding the cold. The city's 311 service will extend its hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. tonight and tomorrow.

The county's advice for those staying at home? Wear layers of tight-knit clothing, insulate exposed pipes (or turn on the faucet to a steady drip) to prevent freezing and check on Grandma.

If you have to go outside, cover exposed skin. Wear a scarf over your mouth. Mind your fingertips, toes and earlobes, which will be the first to suffer frostbite.

"The most important thing for folks is to use common sense," Mr. Henderson said.


Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497. Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. First Published January 6, 2014 10:40 AM

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