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Tue., Oct. 6
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St. Lawrence County rethinks hazmat team


CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday will discuss having a response to hazardous materials incidents by both a paid team organized by Ogdensburg and trained volunteers from other locales.

“We’ll have a combination, a hybrid,” county Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

An ammonia leak Aug. 27 at SUNY Potsdam shut down Maxcy Hall and brought in response teams from Fort Drum and Franklin and Jefferson counties, among other volunteers, police and state agencies, and highlighted the need among emergency crews for a coordinated local effort.

In June, county legislators voted against restoring funding for a paid hazardous materials response team even though a majority preferred having a paid group. Some legislators wanted the city of Ogdensburg and the village of Massena — which have firefighters, rescue squad and police department members who make up the bulk of the 16-member paid team — to share the cost of having their employees better able to respond to emergencies in their area.

The city has tentatively agreed that the county would pay it $17,500 annually for the services of 12 members of the team from Ogdensburg, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

“The county will no longer have a paid team,” she said. “We’ll do it on a one-year trial basis.”

Emergency Services Director Joseph M. Gilbert and City Manager John M. Pinkerton were unavailable for comment.

Talks are underway with the village of Massena for a similar arrangement if it could field a core group of four people, Ms. St. Hilaire said. The village now has two members on the team.

Volunteers can also take the Occupational Safety & Health Administration training, which is free.

“We will try to have the training in the county so people don’t have to travel,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

Changing the organizational structure will put the county on a more level playing field with its consortium partners from other counties, all of which have the service provided by volunteers.

The combination of paid individuals and volunteers trained in dealing with hazardous materials could also address concerns of the county Fire Advisory Board, which had not embraced Mr. Gilbert’s recommendation of switching to an all-volunteer team.

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