Almost a year ago, emergency measures were implemented across parts of Columbia and Rensselaer counties in New York and Berkshire County in Massachusetts, as six local fire companies battled a blaze that broke out at a recycling plant in West Ghent.
The fire broke out around 10 p.m. on August 1st, 2012 at TCI of New York on Route 9H in West Ghent. According to Columbia County officials, the building housed mineral oil tanks, tractor trailers containing fuel oil, propane tanks, and other hazardous substances, including sodium that came from transformers disposed of at TCI.
Columbia County's office of emergency management director Bill Black said in his 30 years of fire experience, he'd never witnessed a blaze as intense as the one at TCI.
The fear that PCBs had been released into the air had been one of the greatest concerns. The situation attracted the attention of the governor's office, which closely monitored the chain of events through the State Emergency Operations Center. The eastward track of smoke from the industrial fire prompted the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency through spokesman Peter Judge to issue an apocalyptic-sounding warning for citizens in Southern Berkshire County.
The Town of Ghent declared a state of emergency, and other municipalities followed as public and emergency services agencies were inundated with calls from local residents. Within a day or two after the fire, questions were being raised about the way locals were notified about the inferno and the possible contamination dangers from any residue after it was extinguished.
Later in the month, 300 citizens showed up at the West Ghent Volunteer Fire Dept. for a meeting with officials including Assemblywoman DiDi Barrett. Now, a year after the fire, the Columbia County Environmental Management Council has issued a series of recommendations for towns to regulate companies. Council Chair Ed Simonsen says the agency has had discussions and has poured over fire reports. Simonsen says an extensive list of council recommendations was finalized on June 24th and sent to the County Board of Supervisors. (A copy may be viewed here in PDF format, via SamPratt.com).
The recommendations are awaiting reaction form the board of supervisors and the public at large. TCI officials were not available for comment.
This month, Governor Cuomo signed legislation that will help improve New York’s ability to coordinate preparation and response for disaster emergencies. The new legislation updates current emergency laws, allows the state to accept certain gifts and donations to assist with emergencies, and helps implement the NY-Text emergency alert system.
Assemblywoman Barrett says the legislation will “make the state more effective and more efficient in crisis,” like the TCI fire. Simonsen adds that updates and enhancements talked about after the fire have been made to the local 9-1-1 system.