By Ben Crookshanks
If you travel very far on any of West Virginia's eight interstates or five corridors, you will see at least one white Ford F-150 pick-up truck with an orange light bar on top and a gold and blue decal on the door. There are 25 of these trucks around the state driven by members of West Virginia's Courtesy Patrol. Over two dozen states have a courtesy patrol, but none of them with people out there on the roads, around the clock-24/7, like West Virginia.
The state started a Courtesy Patrol back in 1979. It ran into financial problems and was dropped after four years. The present day Courtesy Patrol began in 1998 as a part of West Virginia's Welfare to Work program. The WVCP is operated by the non-profit organization West Virginia Citizens' Conservation Corps on an annual budget of $5 million administered by the Division of Highways. Courtesy patrol participants receive educational training, workshops, job shadowing, participate in apprenticeships and other enhanced courses with Southern West Virginia Community & Technical College. The program has partnerships with eight vo-tech centers, where students work alongside CP mechanics to get hands-on experience. The patrol also works closely with the West Virginia State Police. Reggie Seacrist, a retired 1st Sergeant with the State Police is the Director of Safety and Training for the WVCP. Members will work for the CP for a period of time, usually a few years, then move on to private sector jobs.
The patrol has 125 operators and eight dispatchers. These people provide a variety of services. During an average year, the CP will receive over 120,000 phone calls. They will stop to assist people in over 25,000 vehicles. These cases can range anywhere from something simple like someone who is lost and just needs directions, has a flat tire or ran out of gas to something serious, like a major breakdown or possibly a life threatening emergency. The CP members administer first-aid or perform CPR over twenty times a year. They stop to remove debris from the highway over 1,500 times and check out over 3,000 abandoned vehicles.
West Virginia is known for its abundance of wildlife. Unfortunately, from time to time animals wind up on the highway as road kill. This poses a very real threat to motorists moving along the interstate at 70 mph. Each year the CP removes over 2,000 deer and other animals, this includes a dozen bears, from the highways. Each of the 25 pick-up trucks will log over 300,000 miles a year.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed things in this country forever. The WVCP has received "heightened awareness" training since then. Members of the CP have met with the Office of Emergency Services and FBI officials and have been advised on what to be on the lookout for. Courtesy Patrol personnel constantly monitor bridges, overlooks and roads for suspicious activity.
If you are on an interstate highway or one of the four-lane divided corridors in West Virginia and need to reach a member of the Courtesy Patrol, from a cell phone you can call *77 or 911. Also, you can call 1-888-359-3683.