By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff
Hazmat response efforts were strengthened through an inter-municipal agreement between Montgomery County and the city of Amsterdam, which includes funding to support city firefighters.
County Executive Matthew Ossenfort announced the agreement Thursday, which requires the Amsterdam Fire Department to respond to any hazmat incident within the Montgomery County. The county hazmat response team had been comprised solely of volunteers prior to the commitment from city firefighters.
Montgomery County’s 2017 budget allocated $10,000 to support the fire department, which will be used toward training, equipment and other efforts to support the fire department’s hazmat preparedness and response.
County Emergency Services Director Jeffery Smith said volunteers will continue staffing the county hazmat team, but numbers have dwindled over the years. When there is a hazmat incident during the typical workday, Smith said relying only on volunteers can be tough. Staying up to date with training can also be difficult.
Smith said city firefighters through the partnership are helping stabilize the county’s ability to handle hazmat incidents.
“Now if we have a hazardous materials, they respond immediately,” Smith said of city firefighters. “They’re still supported by the volunteers and will work together as one cohesive unit, but we know for sure we have at least four firefighters that are certified and trained responding immediately.”
Ossenfort said the agreement was another positive partnership between the county and city, which will enhance coverage for municipalities countywide.
“The Amsterdam Fire Department has the appropriate people in place to support the volunteers who have been providing this service, which is absolutely necessary to protect our residents,” Ossenfort said in a prepared statement. “This funding the county is providing to the city’s fire department will go a long way in helping us be better prepared for any potential incidents.”
Amsterdam Fire Chief Michael Whitty said the department was welcomed the partnership on the important endeavor benefiting county residents.
“This support will help us obtain necessary equipment and keep our trainings and qualifications up to date,” Whitty said in a prepared statement.
Montgomery County has the longest stretch of the state Thruway and CSX railroad tracks compared to other counties statewide, according to local officials. The busy thoroughfares across the county create a higher risk for a hazardous material incident.
Smith said, thankfully, the majority of recent hazmat incidents have involved a diesel spill or similar emergency. Around two decades ago, there was a serious train derailment in the hamlet of Nelliston involving leaking propane.
“The potential in our county is extreme every day,” Smith said.
District 8 Legislator Joseph Isabel, who serves as chairman of the county Public Safety Committee, applauded the agreement.
“Public safety and being prepared are among our highest priorities at the county, so we are grateful for the positive working relationship with the city,” Isabel said in a statement. “This teamwork and cooperation demonstrates our ability to put the safety of our residents first.”
Another aspect of the inter-municipal agreement is Amsterdam firefighters will support the county Department of Public Works during any confined-space work required. Smith said firefighters would be on standby to perform rescue operations if needed.
Montgomery County also has a regional agreement with Fulton and Schoharie counties to provide assistance when needed, so Amsterdam has agreed to assist the regional team, too.
“Hazardous materials incidents are very dangerous to not only the responders, but the public in general,” Smith said. “It’s very important that we try to stay on top of this game and be prepared.”