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Orleans dissolves special response team

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 March 2013 at 12:00 am

ALBION – A team trained in assessing hazardous materials has been dissolved due to dwindling members and an infrequent need for their services.

The Orleans County “Special Response Team” formed about a decade ago when the community and country worried about anthrax attacks. Since the Legislature authorized formation of the team in November 2011, the SRT only responded to about five calls in the county, with one a bottle of water in the road that officials feared may have been a hazardous substance.

The team did see more serious incidents, such as a meth lab in Shelby, a chlorine leak in Holley and an acid spill in Medina.

“We don’t have too many hazardous calls in the county,” said Paul Wagner, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Orleans will now be served by special response teams from neighboring counties. The two trailers, haz-mat suits and other equipment used by the Orleans team will be returned to the state or assigned to a regional consortium to be used by the teams in surrounding counties, Wagner said.

The SRT in Orleans was down to four trained members when the County Legislature voted to dissolve the group on March 13. Wagner said team members needed to keep up with training every year. Many former team members worked outside the county, which made it difficult for them to respond quickly to incidents in Orleans.

The initial push for the team, to respond to potential anthrax calls, is less a concern now after the state and federal government developed a protocol for assessing calls. Wagner said the country about a decade ago was worried about any kind of white powder that may have been anthrax. Many response teams were called to investigate powder in shipping cartons and pizza boxes that proved harmless.

“We’ve developed a much better basis to determine if these things are legitimate,” he said.

All firefighters have some basic training in hazardous materials, Wagner said. A typical firefighter is trained to recognize a hazardous material, secure the site and call for assistance.