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December 1, 2009

Haz Mat Teams from Two Counties Train at Novelis

Joint practice for two counties - Members of five hazardous materials teams from Oswego and Onondaga Counties joined together at Novelis in Scriba recently for a joint drill. Shown above are members of the Oswego County Hazardous Materials Team, Novelis Hazardous Materials Team, City of Fulton Fire Department Special Operations Team, Onondaga County Hazardous Materials Response Group, and City of Syracuse Fire Deparment Hazardous Materials Team.

Impressive sight - Emergency response vehicles from five hazardous materials teams from Oswego and Onondaga Counties were lined up outside the Novelis fire station at the plant in Scriba while team members participated in a joint drill.

Suited up - Members of the City of Fulton Fire Department Special Operations Team, outfitted in Level A hazmat suits, stride toward one of the drill stations at Novelis during a recent training to practice handling spills in the cumbersome protection.

Scriba - It was an impressive sight outside the Novelis Fire Department recently with 14 emergency response vehicles from five hazardous materials teams lined up.

Teams from two counties joined Novelis for a Sunday morning drill put together by R.A. Heath, Oswego County Fire Coordinator for Special Operations. “The county team drills regularly with Fulton and Novelis departments,” Heath said. “We invited the Onondaga County and Syracuse City teams to join us today so we could work together.

“Our specialists need to practice with the encapsulating suits and tools they would use in an emergency,” he explained. “But they also need to train with the other individuals they might have to work with during an emergency.”

The Oswego County Hazardous Materials Team has about 32 volunteer members. “An incident might occur when half of the team is working at their regular jobs,” Heath noted. “It's essential that our team is able to work with the other teams in the county.” “Novelis allows us to train at their facility and sends their fire department into the county as mutual aid.”

It's possible however, that in a major incident, personnel from those four teams might not be enough. “We're trying to build a regional effort with Onondaga and other counties,” Oswego County Fire Coordinator John Hinds explained. “All of the teams are struggling for membership. Regional teams make sense for the future.”

“In any emergency situation, if we rely only on our own local resources we'll run out of available manpower soon,” said Onondaga County Deputy Fire Coordinator Court Rutherford, head of Onondaga County's team. “Once we're out of local resources we'll be calling our neighbors through mutual aid.”

The Regional Hazmat Response Team membership is a mix of Syracuse City Fire Departments and the 57 fire departments throughout Onondaga County.

“We have the same mission: to mitigate an emergency as quickly as possible and return to our families at night,” said Rutherford.

The five teams were able to practice in Level A fully encapsulating protective suits and rotate among drum and barrel repair, chlorine B cap repair, and valve identification and shut-off.

“The scope of a hazmat emergency needs more manpower and supplies than Fulton has on its own,” Fulton Fire Department Lt. Aaron Howard said. “We need to work with Oswego County and others for manpower and equipment.

“The value of this drill is that the frequency of this type of call is minimal, yet the skills needed to handle one are huge,” Howard continued. “Training is necessary. That's why I won't miss any of these drills.”

Working with industry is essential, Howard noted. “We have to depend on industry to point us in the right direction. They are the experts in the field.”

That's why the training at Novelis is so important, Heath said. “This gives us an opportunity to work within the noise and limited visibility conditions during an emergency at an industrial facility.” This is the second time Novelis has hosted a county hazmat drill.

“We would rely on the county team as well as the cities of Fulton and Oswego if we had an incident here,” said Novelis Fire Chief Robert Stuart. “It's good to see the knowledge and skills, and see how other departments handle the same situations. Our basic planning is the same, but there might be different techniques. Sharing information is important - even a minor thing may help you out.”

“It's great to integrate with the other teams and work together with them,” Syracuse City Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Bratt said. “This is an opportunity to drill in an industrial facility with the background noise and lighting conditions. The team is very appreciative of being asked to come up and participate.” The fire department brought four members on active duty, but another 10 attended on their own time.

The drill was very successful, Heath said, and county officials are looking forward to more joint opportunities. “The people who were here got a great deal out of training together and working with Novelis,” he said. “We're hoping to drill in other parts of the county next spring.”

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