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Board recognizes hazmat responders

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead, right, on Monday reads a Board of Supervisors proclamation recognizing the Johnstown Fire Department and others involved in a Jan. 11 Hazmat incident in Johnstown. From left to right at the County Office Building are: board Chairman Warren Greene, county Deputy Fire Coordinator Ralph Palcovic, Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, county Emergency Management Director Steven Santa Maria, and Stead. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday recognized the Johnstown Fire Department — and other first responders — who handled a recent toxic hazmat incident at the Johnstown Industrial Park’s Walmart Regional Distribution Center.

A dozen agencies were commended for a “job well done.”

They were: Johnstown Fire Department, Fulton-Montgomery-Schoharie Counties Regional Hazardous Material Response Team, Fulton County Emergency Management Office, Amsterdam Fire Department, Montgomery County Emergency Management Office, Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Johnstown Fire EMS, Fulton County EMS, Gloversville Fire Department, Berkshire Volunteer Fire Department, Montgomery County sheriff, and state police.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead read the proclamation, which honored those involved in what was later referred to as a severe, “dangerous” anhydrous ammonia leak Jan. 11 at the Walmart business. Attending a brief ceremony during the board meeting were: county Deputy Fire Coordinator Ralph Palcovic, Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer and county Emergency Management Director Steven Santa Maria.

The 8 a.m. incident forced an evacuation of workers in the first-ever, large-scale hazardous materials incident in Fulton County, authorities said. The leak was stopped during the 7 1/2-hour incident, from which no one had to be transported to a medical facility. Two Walmart employees were evaluated at the 300 Enterprise Road center scene by Johnstown Fire EMS.

The proclamation noted the Jan. 11 event was a “dangerous situation requiring immediate attention.”

“The Johnstown Fire Department arrived promptly on scene, assessed the situation with company employees and determined the cause to be a mechanical failure,” the proclamation stated. “The Johnstown fire chief, an incident commander, requested that the Fulton-Montgomery-Schoharie Counties Regional Hazardous Material Response Team be activated and deployed to the scene. Multiple contributing agencies cooperated to evacuate employees and cordon off the area to a safe perimeter.”

The proclamation went on to indicate that hazmat technicians conducted a Level A entry at the distribution center to “further isolate and secure the leak.”

“The complex event was handled professionally and expeditiously to prevent the incident from expanding to a more severe problem,” the proclamation said.

Following the reading of the proclamation, Santa Maria told the board that anhydrous ammonia is a “deadly” chemical and the leak was a “high severity event.” He said Heberer’s skills were “on full display.”

“Situations like this need strong leadership,” Santa Maria said.

He said both Heberer, also a deputy fire coordinator, and Palcovic took control of the situation. He said their actions and the actions of others “speaks volumes” for Fulton County.

“These two men are a huge part of why that operation was successful,” Santa Maria said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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