The Chautauqua County Hazardous Materials Response Team is an all-volunteer, highly-trained group of fire fighters who respond to incidents involving hazardous materials throughout the entire county. The Chautauqua County Hazardous Materials Response Team was organized in 1981 at the instigation of co-captains Jack Henderson and Dick Manning with the assistance and support of the County Fire Coordinator Ralph Sandquist to provide specialized responders at hazardous materials emergencies. It was realized that it was not realistic for all 42 individual fire departments in the county to take on this kind of task so they canvassed the Fire Service for members that were interested, and put together a core group. The Chautauqua County Hazmat Team was the second Hazmat Team organized in the State of New York and the first Level A team in the State outside New York City. The team is chartered by Chautauqua County, NY and serves under the direction of the Director of Emergency Services, Julius J. Leone, Jr. Our first call was on June 4, 1982 on I-90, the NY Thruway, for an overturned truck carrying 75 Drums of Perchlorethylene.
Today the group consists of 54 men and women from Fire Departments across the County. All members of the County Team are volunteers, and train monthly at their facility in Mayville, NY. Since its inception, the County Team has been called on average 40 times a year, responding to fuel and oil spills and incidents with unknown chemicals. The team has experienced a wide range of calls with responses having been made to everything from household chemicals to train derailments, and everything in between.
A local Fire Chief can call on the Hazmat team when he realizes there is a spill or a hazardous chemical is involved. The Incident Commander makes the call through the County E-911 Communications Center, following procedures contained in the Chautauqua County Hazardous Materials Incident Response Plan. When the County Team is called to the scene, they integrate into the fire department’s response. The local Fire Chief remains the Incident Commander, and the team advises and takes direction from him. The team brings its special operations vehicles, outfitted with equipment for specialized HAZMAT response, including, detection equipment, fully encapsulating “Level A” suits and decontamination equipment.
The Chautauqua County Hazardous Materials Response Team has strived to create an environment where the team’s assets, skills and equipment can be used no matter what the situation. Over the last dozen years, we have worked to be a resource as an all hazard asset. We are automatically dispatched with the County SWAT Team, while the Technical Rescue, WET and Forensic Investigation Teams all call on us to provide various support.
In 2008 NYS we lead a group of Hazmat Teams in our region in an effort to secure a regional grant in the new initiative to support the New York State Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Teams with grant funds to enhance and upgrade their capabilities. We partnered with Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties and the Seneca Nation of Indians. This specialized Hazmat grant was created to provide a financial incentive for the development of regional Hazmat capabilities. The three primary objectives of this grant are to promote the development of regional partnerships among the State Hazmat community; to build sustainable WMD/Hazmat Response Capabilities; and to enhance the standing of the State’s Hazmat teams within FEMA’s “typing system”. The NYS Department of Homeland Security has awarded a targeted grant to the Hazardous Materials Response Team in Chautauqua County and our partners every year since. The initiative seeks to encourage regional collaboration with targeted funding. This has been one of the impediments keeping us from moving towards a FEMA Type I team. Neither we, nor any of our partners, would have been able to afford this equipment on our own.
We have also established a partnership with Erie County Pennsylvania. Training with and exercising with them many times over the last 5 years. In May 2013, we were fortunate to host a drill at Chautauqua Institute with the NY National Guard’s elite Weapons of Mass Destruction 2nd Civil Support Team.
The team annually co-sponsors with the local community college (JCC) an 8 hour Hazwoper refresher course for local industries. We also participate in the delivery of this class. Also, the team annually co-sponsors three Household Waste Days throughout the county. As we participate we are on stand-by the day of the events.
The team has historically trains monthly (see attached yearly schedules) plus encouraged members to take as many NY State classes as they can.