March 1, 2006News from the Local Emergency Planning Committee --
County Hazardous Materials Team is Key Resource for Chemical Emergencies
A key resource for hazardous chemical emergencies in Oswego County is the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Response Team, an all-volunteer, highly-trained group of firefighters who respond to incidents involving hazardous chemicals throughout the year.
The Oswego County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) supports the team with funding for training and equipment. The LEPC plans and conducts exercises that bring emergency responders throughout the county together to practice and get to know each other.
The county team was started in the 1990s by the Oswego County Fire Coordinator’s Office to provide specialized responders at hazardous materials emergencies. “We realized it was not realistic for individual fire departments to take on this kind of task,” said Al Heath, County Deputy Fire Coordinator for Special Operations. “We canvassed the fire service for people who were interested, and put together a core group.”
The group of about 28 includes firefighters from volunteer departments across the county and the two career departments, Fulton and Oswego. They’re all volunteers on the county’s team, and train monthly at their facility at Suttons Corners, Palermo.
The county team trains often with both the Fulton and Oswego city hazardous materials teams.
“We have a good partnership,” Heath said. “The goal is that we integrate well and back each other up.” The teams have also trained several times with Birdseye’s team at the Fulton plant, at other industries, and at several LEPC-sponsored exercises.
Since its inception, the county team has been called an average of once or twice a month, responding to fuel and oil spills and incidents with unknown chemicals. The county and Fulton teams responded to the CSX train derailment in Central Square last November, standing by throughout the weekend as CSX personnel and contractors worked to remove four tanks of liquefied chlorine.
A local fire chief can call on the haz-mat team when he realizes a hazardous chemical is involved, Heath said. The incident commander – usually the chief of a local department – makes the call through the E-911 Communications Center, following procedures contained in the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Incident Response Plan.
When the county team is called to the scene, Heath noted, they integrate into the fire department’s response. The local fire chief remains the incident commander, and the team advises and takes direction from him. The team brings its special operations trailer, outfitted with equipment for specialized response including fully encapsulating “Level A” suits and decontamination equipment.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has provided funding to buy more specialized equipment that would be used in a domestic terrorism event. “There is a heightened level of awareness,” Heath noted. “Because we are the domestic response organization, we need to train in a different manner.”
In recent months the county team has taken its trailer to the local fire departments, showing them the equipment and explaining how the team works with the local organizations. “They need to know what our resources are and how they can get them,” Heath noted.
For more information on the county haz-mat team, call the county Fire Coordinator’s Office at 591-9142.
Members of the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Team brought their special operations trailer to a Safety Day at Entergy in 2005, and demonstrated their equipment. From the left are Bill Brown of Volney, County Deputy Fire Coordinator for Special Operations Al Heath, Brad Lyboult of Caughdenoy, and Scott Tice of Minetto.
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