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Fires keep heat on as local firefighters battle cold
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Battling through frigid temperatures and a snowstorm, county firefighters have been pushed to the limit this week with multiple fires in different locations throughout Jefferson County.

“It has been a busy week for our firefighters,” said Madison Township fire chief Robert Black, whose department worked two big fires on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and then several others over the rest of the week. “We appreciate all their hard work and dedication.”

In all, Black said Madison Township has been involved in nine fire calls since Tuesday either as the primary responder or to provide mutual aide.

On Thursday morning, fire destroyed the home of Terry Hatton in the 100 block of South Brooksburg Main Street in Brooksburg. Hatton had been gone for a short time and when he returned home found the home fully engulfed in flames, according to Milton Township Fire Chief Troy Ayler. In addition to the home, Hatton lost two Huskie dogs in the fire, which Ayler said firefighters recovered and helped to bury in the backyard.

Ayler received the fire call at 9:37 a.m. after neighbors reported seeing flames on the roof. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department deputies were first on the scene and began fighting the blaze while Milton Township Fire Department firefighters arrived next.

When Ayler arrived he said flames had spread throughout the entire house. There was a propane tank near the house that he said was a cause for safety concerns but firefighters were successfully able to control the blaze enough to keep it from reaching the tank.

Ayler said he didn’t know the cause of the fire, but that it seemed to start in the area of a wood stove. Firefighters battled the fire until 1:30 p.m. and then returned early that evening when the fire rekindled. There were no injuries in the fire other than the pets.

Ayler said the house had recently been remodeled, and that Hatton lost “antiques and glassware and things that can’t be replaced” in the blaze.

Four tankers were used to shuttle water from a fill site three miles away in Lamb. Milton Township Fire Department received assistance from Rykers Ridge Fire Department and Madison Township Fire Department, along with Jefferson-Craig Fire Department from Switzerland County.

On Wednesday afternoon, fire also destroyed a pole barn in the 8200 block of North Middlefork Road in Lancaster Township. The pole barn was part of property owned by Gary and Pamela Jackson, and located behind a house. Residents were home when they noticed the barn on fire. The house and another structure were near the pole barn, but Dupont Fire Chief George Canfield said firefighters were “able to contain the fire to that one building.”

The pole barn, which Canfield said included a woodworking room and storage area, was totally destroyed. The fire was reported at 4 p.m and firefighters battled the blaze and were then on the scene until about 8:30 p.m. Canfield said one of the challenges was that the fire got into some clothing that was stored in the building and that the blaze kept going as it burned through the clothes. He said the cause of the fire has not been determined.

Kent Fire Department assisted Dupont Fire Department with a tanker truck. Also, Madison Township Fire Department provided manpower and water. The Jefferson County Highway Department assisted by spreading salt and cinders to keep roadways safe for emergency vehicles and trucks hauling water. King’s Daughters’ Hospital was at the scene on standby with its emergency unit but there were no injuries.

On Thursday at about noon, Black said Madison Township firefighters had just returned to their firehouse from assisting with the Brooksburg fire when they got a call-out concerning a fire in the 100 block of Horizon Drive in Madison Mobile Village. The resident was home when he saw smoke coming into the trailer through the duct work. Black said the fire was caused by wires that had shorted out underneath the trailer.

“We got it knocked out really quick,” said Black, adding damage was limited to a water line and insulation under the trailer. He said the water line underneath the trailer actually assisted in putting the fire out. The water pipes were plastic and “as the fire melted the water pipes, water began pouring out.”

Rykers Ridge Fire Department assisted at the scene.

Finally, on Friday at 4:24 a.m., Madison Township responded to a vehicle fire in the 5000 block of US 421.

“When the vehicle started, it made a sound and started burning,” said Black, adding that firefighters were able to respond quickly and the fire was out within 15 minutes of the call.

“The car was destroyed,” said Black. “Anytime you have fire in a car, it’s totaled” because ruins the mechanics of the vehicle. There was also damage to a nearby shed.

Once again Rykers Ridge Fire Department assisted at the scene of the vehicle fire.

Jefferson, Switzerland show improvement in COVID numbers
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Jefferson and Switzerland counties in Indiana have both improved enough to move into the “yellow” metric in terms of COVID-19 infection rates while, Carroll County is in the “orange” and Trimble County is still in the more serious “red” based on the latest updates in Kentucky.

Indiana reported six new cases of the caronavirus and three new deaths in Jefferson County, bringing the county’s totals to 2,911 cases and 70 deaths since the pandemic began last March. So far 14,552 Jefferson residents have been tested — including 24 in the most recent update — and the county’s seven-day positivity once again showed improvement to 5.4% with a unique individual positivity of 12.8% and a county metric of 1.5.

Switzerland had no new deaths but seven deaths total and only one new positive case with 748 overall out of 3,762 tested. The county’s positively rate has improved to 7.9% and the 15.4% unique positivity rating has moved the county into the “yellow” metric.

While the data is handled slightly different in Kentucky, the state still uses colored metrics to identify which counties are hardest hit by the coronavirus. Carroll County, with 868 total cases and 10 total deaths, has a statewide incidence rate of 21.5% while less populous Trimble, with a total of 607 cases and five deaths, is at 27.0% — putting Carroll in the “accelerated” designation and Trimble in the “critical” zone in terms of community infection rates.

Meanwhile, Indiana posted data showing 44 new deaths and 11,989 overall and 1,080 new positive cases and 653,235 overal. There have been 7,683,034 COVID-19 tests in Indiana — 32,422 of those most recently — for a 4.4 seven-day positivity and 11.3% unique positivity.

Kentucky has now reported 292,729 cases overall and 4,373 deaths with a 21.374 statewide incidence rate.

Meanwhile, the winter storm that coated Indiana with heavy snow disrupted thousands of coronavirus vaccine appointments and delayed the state’s timeline for expanding shots to additional populations.

More than 80 clinics around the state closed due to the weather — Jefferson County for the most part remained open — and upwards of 43,000 vaccine appointments will need to be rescheduled, the state health department’s chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver announced.

Most clinics did not remove vaccines from their freezers ahead of the winter weather, which spared doses from being wasted, Weaver said.

Vaccine shipments to Indiana were also interrupted, health officials said. By midweek, the state still had not received its weekly allocation of Moderna vaccines.

As a result, Indiana won’t yet expand vaccine eligibility beyond those aged 65 and older. Health officials said they hope to make shots available to the next age group — the state’s 432,000 60- to 64-year-olds — as early as next week, once shipments get back on schedule.

“We will see how the weather continues to impact our shipments, but hopefully we will be able to expand as soon as sometime next week,” Weaver said, emphasizing that the state will need a “large influx” of vaccine before further widening eligibility to the 858,000 Hoosiers aged 50 and above.

There is still no timeline in place for Indiana’s teachers and other essential workers to become eligible for COVID-19 shots, however.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana should be getting a “small increase” in vaccine doses moving forward, although he expressed concerns about vaccines that will soon be provided to federally qualified health centers and community health clinics within Indiana.

Holcomb said health officials want to be able to monitor “need and supply” with the state’s current system, in addition to tracking who is getting vaccinated.

“We’re never going to turn away more doses, we love that,” Holcomb said. “But we want to know where the doses are going.”

Weaver said more than 60% of the state’s eligible populations have already been vaccinated or have appointments to get shots.

That total includes about 57% of Hoosiers 80 and older, 65% of Hoosiers aged 70, and older, and 56% of Hoosiers aged 65 to 69. The number also includes about 68% of eligible health care workers and first responders, in addition to nearly 98,000 doses that have been administered to residents and staff in long term care facilities, Weaver said.

To date, about 17,000 out of state residents have received vaccine who live in neighboring states but work in Indiana.

Weaver maintained the state’s vaccine wastage “has been minimal,” noting that of the more than 1.3 million doses Indiana has received so far, only 172 doses have been lost.

Elswhere, Kentucky plans to open 28 more COVID-19 vaccination sites in preparation for the time when vaccine supplies will be much more plentiful, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

More than 555,000 Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of vaccine, but the state’s ability to provide shots still far outpaces available supplies, the governor said.

Kentucky’s network of inoculation locations will grow to 291 with the new openings, which include regional centers in Albany, Cadiz, Campbellsville, Hartford, Marion and Maysville, according to the governor’s office. New sites opening in partnership with Kroger include Bardstown, La Grange, Lebanon, Louisville, Madisonville, Morehead, Mount Sterling, Owensboro, Somerset and Walton.

Other new sites are scattered across the state.

“There is a provider that has vaccine close to where everybody lives in the commonwealth,” Beshear said at a news conference. “There are some areas where you might have to drive just a little bit further, but we continue to build this out.”

Kentucky is set to receive another 29% increase in COVID-19 vaccine supply from the federal government starting next week, Beshear has said. Recent increases haven’t kept up with demand, which means providers have limited supplies as the buildup of vaccination sites continues, he said.

“We don’t have nearly what we could put in people’s arms,” Beshear said. “And every time we add sites, and we add them for convenience, it does split up the pie in more and more amounts.”

Meanwhile, Kentucky is relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions at some of its long-term care facilities. Indoor visitation will resume at non-Medicare-certified facilities that have been through the COVID-19 vaccination process, Beshear said. Group activities, communal dining and visitations among vaccinated residents will resume, he said.

Included in the updated protocols are assisted living facilities, personal care homes, intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities and independent living centers, Beshear said.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s exciting to be able to relax some restrictions,” said state Cabinet for Health and Family Services inspector general Adam Mather.

People will be expected to schedule their visits with the facility, and up to two visitors from the same household can visit a resident at one time, state officials said.

Visitors will need to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the visit. The new protocols will take effect today.

Winter storms keep county crews busy
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Jefferson County has been digging out of snow most of the week and County Highway Superintendent Bobby Phillips provided a report on those efforts to County Commissioners at their meeting Thursday evening.

“I would tell you guys what I have been doing, but I think you’ve got a pretty good idea. I have seen too much snow,” Phillips said. “The crew has been extremely busy. We have literally worked around the clock. From the time that the snow was coming in, it was impossible to get everybody home, so we basically split up the crew so we could keep a night shift. That worked out very well. There were some emergency calls getting to first responders and fire trucks, and just trying to keep everything safe.”

Phillips said he couldn’t “say enough about the crew. We’ve had multiple hiccups. There have been multiple challenges as it goes with our terrain with the snow. We’ve had a lot of help from each other, from contractors, farmers, first responders, fire departments,” he noted. “It’s events like this you can literally see people helping people.”

“Kudos to the guys out there. I know they’ve been busting their tails the last few day,” Commissioner Bobby Little said “The roads are in pretty decent shape considering what we were faced with.”

Troy Morgan, Emergency Management Agency Director, noted that conditions “weren’t as bad as they could have been.” He said plenty of planning and a break in snowfall predictions the National Weather Service forecast last weekend helped soften the blow.

“We had an EMA office meeting to talk about plans and resources,” he said. “I think that was a great thing. It was encouraging to have everybody come together and find out what was out there that we may take advantage of should the need arise.”

Morgan did apologize that the Town of Hanover was not informed of that meeting. “I take full responsibility for that,” he said. “It was not intentional. It was unfortunate. I apologize to them for any inconvenience or hurt feelings. Just put that out there officially on the record that it was an oversight on my part. It was still a good meeting. I have talked to the folks at Hanover since then, I hope that everybody understands.”

Morgan is hopeful the county may soon put winter weather behind it and get a break with warmer weather.

“We’re moving along, and it’s supposed to warm up here in a couple days. I think it is going to rain and be above freezing on Sunday, so maybe we can get rid of some of this mess,. If we can keep the streams and creeks in check, we’ll be OK.”

Phillips encouraged county residents to continue to be aware of road conditions even as temperatures begin to warm. “When this starts to melt, when it gets to 50 degrees, the ditches are full of water, it’s going to be in the road, so please be alert,” he said.

In other business:

• Commissioners President David Bramer reported that now that a construction manager has been hired for the new jail project, they plan to have bids back in April. After that, Bramer said there is a 30-day window before bonds can be awarded and he anticipates excavation work to start in June.

Additionally, the Commissioners voted to update a contract with Construction Control Inc. of Fort Wayne as owner’s representative for the construction project at a flat rate of $14,000 per month, rather than the hourly rate of $150 per hour. Bramer said the firm has helped the county to already save approximately $1.5 million on the project.

“He’s had our back the whole way through,” Little said of Jack Krouse, president of Construction Control Inc.

Bramer said Construction Control asked for the change because “as things ramp up in the construction he is going to need to spend more time, it would be better to go with a flat fee rather than an hourly rate.” Bramer added that Krouse has “far more experience than we will ever have in the jail industry. Thank goodness because if it was left up to us, we would be floundering. We’re glad that we are paying a little to save quite a bit.”

Commissioner Ron Lee noted that a meeting to discuss re-use of the old county jail is set for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Jefferson County Public Training Center on Green Road in Madison.

• A public hearing was held related to a grant the county is seeking from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for small business loans related to COVID-19 recovery. The loans are to help retain low-to-moderate income jobs with an outreach emphasis toward businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. Erica Cline, who is overseeing Jefferson County’s grant process, said the county’s application for the next phase of the grant is being finished and due March 11. She said the awards will be announced April 15, and at that point Jefferson County will know whether it will receive the grant. If the county is awarded funds, a match of local funds will be required from the Commissioners budget with the approval of County Council.

• Rick Sauley, of RLS Insurance Group, met with the Commissioners to discuss terms of the county’s liability insurance for 2021-2022. He said the premium will be $102,453, which is a slight increase over the last premium of $98,954, but noted that after an audit the county had paid an additional $7,305, so that makes the premium about the same or even slightly less than the previous contract. He also informed the Commissioners about grant money possibilities for county safety equipment.

• Awarded a contract for paving county roads from the state Community Crossing Grant. Bids had been received at the Feb. 5 meeting with Dave O’Mara Contractors of North Vernon submitting the lowest bid at $1,024,093, but Commissioners wanted to review terms of the bid before awarding the contract.

Main Street to manage Farmer's Market
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Special to the Courier

Madison Main Street Program will take over management of the Madison Farmer’s Market after months of negotiations with the market’s advisory committee “Madison Main Street program is excited to begin managing the Farmers Market of Madison, Indiana. Many consistent shoppers at our downtown businesses, also frequent the Farmers Market each Saturday and we know this synergy will continue our mission to support local businesses, farmers, producers, and creators,” said Main Street Executive Director Austin Sims.

The Madison Farmers Market is the oldest farmer’s market in the state of Indiana with roots stretching to the city’s founding in 1809. Under the agreement, many elements of the farmer’s market will remain the same including the summer hours. The farmer’s market also will remain located around the Broadway Fountain in downtown Madison every Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon from April to October.

The Market Advisory Committee will continue to manage the winter farmer’s market until the Madison Main Street Program takes over management in May. Members of the Market Advisory Committee are committed to maintaining their involvement in the farmer’s market by joining as members of the Madison Main Street Farmer’s Market Committee.

“This transition is really good news: it’s an indication that the market is growing. The vendors have been running market for the last five or so years now, and we’re excited to say that we’ve outgrown ourselves! We’re excited that by bringing market under Main Street, we can bring in some real expertise with marketing and publicity, grant writing, and just growing the number of customers and vendors. Main Street was clear from the start that they want farmers and vendors to have lots of input and to serve on the market committee. It just feels like a natural and strong relationship,” said Market Advisory Committee Chair Liz Brownlee.

Madison was one of the first three original Main Street pilot communities in the United States, which started in 1977. Madison Main Street, a 501©3 nonprofit organization, is designated by Indiana Main Street as a nationally accredited Main Street America program.

The local Main Street organization sponsors many projects that assist businesses and bring people downtown, including Music in the Park, Girls’ Weekend and the Main Street Loft Tour. For more information or for questions about the 2021 Madison Farmer’s Market, e-mail madisonmainstreetprogram@gmail.com or call 812-274-0385.