Thursday, December 20, 2012
About a half-dozen
firefighters have resigned from New Jersey's Gloucester County hazardous response team,
claiming faulty equipment exposed them to high levels of vinyl chloride during
the Paulsboro train derailment.
The Washington Township Fire District removed
its firefighters from the county’s hazardous materials and decontamination teams
earlier this month over concerns surrounding the response to last month’s
derailment. The district also cited an “ongoing lackadaisical commitment” to
hazardous response situations from the county, according to a letter obtained by
“According to our findings, these emergency
responders were exposed to deadly gases due to the negligence of the county by
its failure to maintain the equipment required to detect exposure,” Washington
Township Board of Fire Commissioner Chairman Sam Micklus wrote in a letter to
In the letter, Micklus said firefighters will
never know the extent of their exposure to the vapor, which at high doses can
cause cancer and liver damage.
Noting the firefighters’ withdrawal, county
officials assured the public in a statement Wednesday that the current 21-member
team of technicians remains “adequately staffed.” It responds to about 300 calls
per year, ranging from environmental investigations, industrial accidents and
calls for explosive devices.
“The county takes this, and all issues
dealing with public safety and our first responders seriously, and is reviewing
the matter and will address it accordingly,” a statement said.
Members of the
county’s hazmat team were dispatched by the county as first responders to the
Nov. 30 freight train derailment and chemical spill. Thousands of gallons of
vinyl chloride vapor were released into the air when a tanker was ruptured after
toppling off the tracks. More than 60 people were treated at hospitals for
possible exposure, but none was admitted or believed to be seriously
The letter to the county’s emergency
management director Tom Butts states the Washington Township firefighters
withdrew from the county team themselves following the derailment, and then made
a request to the fire district for a formal withdrawal. The board agreed in a
Dec. 6 vote.
“The (township fire district) will not expose
its personnel to unnecessarily dangerous situations that could easily be
mitigated by professional, qualified leadership and basic preparation,” Micklus
stated in the letter.
He also made clear that last month’s response
to the derailment was not the only issue at hand. Micklus alleged officials in
the past have failed to prepare and inspect county equipment and also neglected
to perform needed drills and inspections.
His letter said the district would consider
rejoining the county response team following a change in its leadership and
The county further defended the team
Wednesday, saying it is audited by the state and that its members maintain
certification through “regular training programs, exercises and
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