Beneath the blazing summer sun, police officers, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical (EMS) personnel from across Rockland County converged on Orangetown last week in response to an “accident” on the CSX rail line near Highview Avenue. This “accident” was part of a full-scale exercise to evaluate coordination, capabilities and response during a freight train mishap involving highly-volatile Bakken crude oil. Orangetown Police and the Orangeburg Fire Department hosted the drill, in coordination with the County of Rockland and more than 30 other agencies, including the New York State Division of Homeland Security.
According to figures provided by CSX, at least 30 freight trains hauling Bakken crude roll through Rockland County every week. Each train carries in excess of one-million gallons of the highly-flammable product. A derailment of one of these trains presents monumental challenges to first responders and local leaders, not to mention our residents. We saw it happen last year in Quebec. The results were 47 people dead and a picturesque village obliterated. Please know that our dedicated first responders are working every day to make certain a similar tragedy can’t happen here.
Under the experienced guidance of our Office of Fire and Emergency Services, Rockland County is on the cutting edge of preparedness, prevention, response and disaster recovery. In the event of a rail accident, high-tech mapping has been developed to aid first responders in notification and evacuation. Our pre-planning includes partnerships with neighboring first responder agencies, CSX and public utilities, like Orange and Rockland and United Water. We’ve also invested in some of the finest equipment, providing our firefighters with the right tools for the job.
During last week’s drill, I was extremely impressed by the skill and knowledge demonstrated by our volunteer first responders. My career with the New York City Police Department and background in command and control allows me view such exercises with a critical eye. I recognize technical and functional expertise when I see it. And, I saw it last week in Orangetown!
Whether confronting a freight train inferno or a small kitchen fire, Rockland’s volunteer firefighters put their lives on the line at a moment’s notice for their neighbors. For this sacrifice, they deserve our utmost thanks and respect. Since taking the job as Rockland County Executive nearly 17 months, my office has maintained an open dialogue with the firefighting community as we move forward to assure our communities have the emergency responses when needed and the responders have the tools, equipment, training and planning they require to be effective.
Rockland County owes a great debt to our volunteer firefighters, who give freely of their time. Their contributions enrich our communities and help define the character of our neighborhoods. At the town and county levels, we must do everything we can to both encourage men and women to become firefighters and to supply the training and equipment they need to continue to provide the quality service they offer us now.
One of the great privileges I have in this role is the opportunity to recognize exceptional men and women who shine through their high standard of service, their volunteerism and their invaluable contribution they make to our communities. Their responsibility and courage reaffirms the significance of their ultimate tasks of saving lives and property in Rockland County.
To our local firefighters, I say thank you. You are doing a great job. Let us work together to make sure Rockland County’s firefighting capabilities remain strong long into the future.