SLC legislators modify budget to cover $20,000 in county’s HAZMAT team expenses
BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI
North Country This Week
CANTON — St. Lawrence County Legislators approved a budget modification for the Emergency Services Department to cover $20,000 in expenses for the county’s HAZMAT team.
Legislators approved the measure, which will allow the department to purchase new equipment, cover building rental expenses and obtain additional training for team members.According to County Emergency Services Director Matt Denner, $2,500 will be used to cover rental expenses at the Massena International Airport where the equipment trailers are stored.
An additional $3,000 will be used to cover expenses paid to the Massena Fire Department, who will assist in inspecting and maintaining the equipment being stored in Massena.
Legislator Margaret Haggard posed a question about the scope of the department’s capabilities, highlighting the serious need in light of recent events.
“In light of recent news of recent train derailments and hazardous materials, are we prepared to address any such situations,” Haggard asked.
Denner said the team is capable of handling many similar situations but it would depend on the size of the trains and spills.
“We would do the best we can but it depends on the size of the trains and spills. We know St. Lawrence County has a very active train system and a lot of chemicals are being transported,” he said.
The HAZMAT team in St. Lawrence County consists of 44 volunteers, along with two trailers.
One trailer is used for decontamination while the other is used for entry purposes, officials say.
HAZMAT services were previously offered by the Ogdensburg Fire Department at the cost of $18,000 per year, however when the contract expired on Dec. 31, 2020, officials opted to not renew and instead shift the service to the county.
According to Denner, New York State also has a number of resources that could be utilized in the event of a large-scale spill. Many of those involved at the state level have already been involved with the county through various instruction and training sessions in the past, he said.
Denner also spoke to the consortium the county has with Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Warren and Washington counties, which allows all six counties to apply for grants together to purchase new equipment.
Last year the Emergency Services Department received two propane flare kits, used in the event of a gas leak.
According to Denner, the unit has been deployed twice already and worked flawlessly.
Other resources are also available from surrounding counties, including Jefferson and Franklin Counties.
“Franklin County has a decon (decontamination) team that can assist as well,” Denner said.
Legislator Dan Fay also voiced concerns about potential derailments, citing a recent one in St. Lawrence County that he said occurred behind the former Agway building in Canton.
Denner reassured legislators the team is equipped to handle spills and outside resources are readily available to assist if necessary.
“The government has also added requirements to trains and adjusted speeds in many sections for safety. The state has really stepped up on rail safety,” he said.
Legislator Glenn Webster inquired how the Emergency Services Department would know what cargo is being transported on a train.
According to Denner, conductors carry a manifest with them just as truck drivers do. Manifests include details of all shipments. In the event that county officials are unable to obtain a manifest on site, rail companies will be able to provide that information with a phone call, Denner said.
“We would start from a distance, checking the numbers and warnings on the tanks with binoculars before we approached,” Denner said.
Denner reiterated that such cases would be exceedingly rare and safety measures have been improved significantly in recent years to negate many risks.
Officials say the HAZMAT team continues to operate and recruit new members, however training costs are required for new members.
An 80-hour HAZMAT technician training course is required and is normally offered for a fee in Montour Falls. Conferences are also needed to ensure staff are up-to-date on all HAZMAT related topics and medical courses to ensure adequate treatment of those exposed to hazardous materials.