Yes, it’s a fire risk

Ghent blaze leads to awareness of chemicals we all should know about
ANCRAM—The fire chief said last week that the potential for an environmentally dangerous fire exists almost everywhere, not just industrial facilities.

The August 2012 explosions and fire at the TCI of NY transformer recycling facility in Ghent has alerted some officials that they should know where the potential for dangerous fires exist within their communities so they can prepare. The lesson applies to residents as well.

During Ancram Fire Chief David Boice’s monthly comments to the Town Board August 15, Columbia County Environmental Management Council (EMC) member and Ancram Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) Chair Jamie Purinton asked the chief what locations in town could produce environmentally serious consequences should a blaze erupt.

In the wake of the TCI fire, the EMC assembled a list of recommendations for the county and its municipalities to consider in order to prevent future explosive and potentially toxic fires. Ms. Purinton said she is mapping the places in Ancram that have such a potential and said she has so far included the local gas station and the paper mill. She wondered whether the chief had a mapping system and knew of other places she should include on her map.

Chief Boice said he doesn’t have a map, but he does have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that contain information about product identity, hazardous ingredients and exposure limits, chemical characteristics, ignition and flashpoints, reactivity, health effects, handling and storing and control measures.

He said the fire company is “made aware” of where hazardous materials are stored and pre-plans accordingly.

Chief Boice said the potential for chemical fires exists at most farms in the form of fertilizers or sprays used to protect crops from pests (weeds or bugs); the highway garage stores fuel and some chemicals; local contractors of all types may store fuels or chemicals and there is liquid chlorine stored at the town pool, though it is “not a huge issue.”

Ms. Purinton said the EMC is interested in building “more community awareness of hazards.”

The chief said the way the fire company handles chemical fires depends on what the chemicals are. He said once firefighters arrive on the scene they gather information from someone onsite and if necessary call in the County HazMat (hazardous materials) Team.
But the potential for toxic fires is not limited to certain types of businesses, factories or municipal facilities.

The chief said the potential exists in every private home—in the chemicals stored under the kitchen sink, vinyl-siding, plastic countertops, floors and furniture.

He said in the last 35 years building materials have changed, plumbing is not just galvanized steel and copper piping but PVC pipe and tubing; trusses and floor joists are now constructed with glue. “These are the kind of things we deal with all the time,” the chief said.

In other business:
•A poll of Town Board members revealed that all are in favor of keeping the job of highway superintendent an elected position rather than changing it to an appointment. The poll followed a lengthy public discussion. It was the second such discussion about the issue the board has had since March. It came up because current longtime Highway Superintendent James MacArthur has announced his plan to retire when his term expires in 2015. Town Supervisor Art Bassin decided it was a good time to consider putting the question on the November ballot if there seemed to be an interest in making a change.
•A lengthy discussion took place about the upcoming vote on funding for the Roeliff Jansen Library. Residents on both sides of the issue spoke. Library volunteers have gathered enough signatures to get the “414 referendum” on the November ballot in Ancram. Taxpayers will be asked to have the town pay a total of $30,000 annually to fund the library. Copake and Hillsdale already help support the library through local taxes, but Ancram, which is part of the library’s chartered service area, makes a voluntary annual donation currently set at $5,000.
•The board agreed to support the town Conservation Advisory Council with $3,000 this year and $3,000 next year in furtherance of completion of the town’s biodiversity map. The CAC has already voluntarily mapped half of the town’s 28,000 acres over the past 12 years. The council will also apply for grants and seek private contributions to help fund the process and move it along.

The Town Board’s next meeting is September 19 at 7 p.m. A public hearing on the 10th draft of the Ridgeline Protection Law may take place at 6:30 p.m., but whether the draft will be complete by then is not yet certain.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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