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St. Lawrence County Hazmat Team is back to answering calls

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CANTON - The St. Lawrence County hazardous materials response team is back in service after lawmakers reinstated funding last September.

The county’s Hazmat Team was disbanded in early 2013 due to budget cutbacks. In September 2013, county legislators agreed to a one-year trial contract with the city of Ogdensburg to pay $17,500 for the services of 12 members from the fire and police departments.

“Since January, we have been making sure all the meters and equipment in the trailers are calibrated and up-to-date and our members are trained,” Hazmat Team member and Ogdensburg Fire Chief Michael J. Farrell said.

“Members haven’t been getting the training because there was not enough funding,” Mr. Farrell said Wednesday. “As of this afternoon, we will be able to answer calls.”

Mr. Farrell said the team typically responds to two to three major hazmat incidents each year.

Hazmat Team Chief of Operations Allen S. Rickett said the last time the county’s squad responded to an incident was for a chemical laboratory fire at SUNY Canton in February 2012.

“It is a life safety issue, period,” Mr. Rickett said. “You can lose several hundred people in an instant and not be able to do anything about.”

When an ammonia spill occurred on the SUNY Potsdam campus in August 2013, fire and rescue workers waited several hours until neighboring hazmat teams from Jefferson and Franklin counties responded to the scene.

“We also stripped them of their hazmat teams to handle our call,” Mr. Rickett said. “It is not good for any of the counties.”

Twenty paid and volunteer members comprise the hazardous materials response team, including volunteer members from Norfolk, Parishville and Helena.

“Sixteen members are not enough for the whole county,” Mr. Farrell said. “I wouldn’t put a maximum on it, but we definitely want more hands-on team members working with us.”

A one-week initial training course is required to become a hazmat technician. The specialists must also take a 16-hour refresher course each year. St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Director Michael J. LeCuyer said the county is hoping to set up classes for hazmat applicants in the near future.

“We haven’t created the application process yet,” the emergency services director said. “We are working with the Office of Fire Prevention to schedule a technician-level course. It is a work in progress. Not every applicant will be accepted. We will rely on the county fire chiefs and deputy coordinators to assist in the application process.”

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