When there’s a fire, accident or other emergency in this central Saratoga County town, volunteers from one of two fire companies respond.
The system has worked for more than a century, but those volunteers will face major new demands if an Advanced Micro Devices computer chip plant is built here.
Between plans for AMD and other community changes, the Malta Ridge and Round Lake fire companies expect to answer more calls — and more specialized kinds of calls — even as they struggle to keep up their membership, a symptom of a nationwide decline in volunteerism.
AMD will have staff trained to handle internal medical or small emergency incidents, but the volunteer departments will be responding to anything that requires outside help.
Malta Ridge Fire Chief Peter Shaw said he doesn’t know whether a volunteer company like his will be able to meet the challenge of firefighting at a large high-tech industrial site.
“We need to know more about what [AMD] expects from us and what we need to have,” said Shaw, who is also a career firefighter in Saratoga Springs.
The semiconductor factory would be arriving on top of other residential and commercial growth that is leading to more emergency calls for volunteers to answer.
“AMD is really kind of a trigger for a lot of things happening,” said Fred Sievers, incoming president of the Round Lake Hose Co., the volunteers who staff the Round Lake Fire Department.
AMD’s plans are now under zoning and environmental reviews by town officials, and the company has said construction could start early next year.
AMD, the world’s No 2 microprocessor company, has struggled financially for the last year, and last week it announced plans to layoff 10 percent of its global work force. But company officials continue to push the local plan, saying they’d like to start clearing land this summer, and be ready to build in January. AMD has until July 2009 to make a final commitment under a state incentive package.
The $3.2 billion AMD plant would employ about 1,465 people, according to the company. Economic development officials say it could be the anchor that attracts other high-tech companies to the Luther Forest Technology Campus, a 1,350-acre site in both Malta and Stillwater.
AMD and other high-tech manufacturing companies make extensive use of acids, solvents and other chemicals in their industrial processes. Those chemicals will be coming to the site by truck, traveling on the local road system.
AMD says it has a track record of working with local fire companies to minimize risk and provide training.
It does annual drills with both volunteer and career fire companies at its plant in Dresden, Germany, said Steve Groseclose, AMD’s director of global environmental, health and safety. It expects to develop similar relationships in Malta and Stillwater.
“As this project proceeds, we need to get all the right people together, but there’s plenty of time to do that,” Groseclose said. “There won’t be any significant amounts of hazardous materials on the site until something like the middle of 2010 at the earliest.”
While they train for the worst, Groseclose said there’s never been a fire call to the Fab 36 plant in Dresden since it began operation.
Shaw is requesting town support for an outside consultant to look at AMD’s manufacturing processes, the kinds of chemicals it uses, and how they match up with the capabilities of local emergency response agencies.
“It would tell us what we need in terms of equipment and training and manpower,” Shaw said.
The nearly 1 million-square-foot AMD factory will be 110 feet high, about twice the height firefighters are currently equipped to reach. Malta Ridge has said it expects to need a new ladder truck.
Malta Ridge officials also think their two-bay downtown substation — the one closest to AMD’s site — will need to be replaced with something bigger, whether AMD ultimately comes or not.
The department is looking for land, though available and affordable land is proving hard to find.
“We think it’s critical we stay in the downtown area, and we’re pretty much open to anything,” Shaw said.
The Malta Ridge company serves the northern half of town, and Round Lake the southern half. Each company has about 50 members; both respond to major fires and have the ability to summon firefighters from other communities if needed.
A semiconductor manufacturing plant would be unlike anything the firefighters have dealt with before.
Groseclose said AMD is ready to meet with all the emergency agencies involved, including the two Malta departments, Arvin Hart Fire Co. in Stillwater, and the county hazardous materials team.
“I need to be confident the emergency system capabilities are there,” Groseclose said. “They don’t have to be there now, but they will need to be, and we are willing to work with them on that.”
An environmental impact statement done in 2004 estimated a Luther Forest chip plant would pay over $400,000 in fire taxes — money that could go to equipment and training.
“I think with proper training, education and coordination with the county hazardous materials team, they can handle it, but it depends on AMD’s cooperation and coordination,” said Malta town Councilman Peter Klotz, who attended a nanotechnology risk management seminar last week in Massachusetts.
The likely route for chemical trucks and many workers commuting to the factory will be from Northway Exit 11, through the Round Lake department’s jurisdiction.
“The bigger problem is going to be with the going to and coming from the building of chemicals and people and equipment,” Sievers predicted.
Saratoga County Fire Coordinator Ed Tremblay said the chemical trucks will be following state and federal regulations for transporting hazardous materials, and such trucks have various design features to minimize the risk of and size of leaks.
“It depends on the chemical, but there are procedures to follow,” Tremblay said.
Round Lake firefighters are particularly concerned that a truck accident could occur at the roundabout being built at the south end of the Round Lake bypass, because it is right next to their fire station.
“That’s a big concern,” Sievers said.
Local firefighters would control the situation until a fully equipped county hazardous materials response truck came from Saratoga Springs, 15 or 20 minutes away.
Round Lake Mayor Dixie Lee Sacks said the local volunteer firefighters may need special equipment and training.
“Right now we don’t have hazardous materials suits for our guys. That’s something to think about,” Sacks said.
Money not meeting needs
Currently, the two fire companies each receive about $317,000 a year from a fire tax raised by the town.
That money is used for equipment and operating expenses. None of the firefighters are paid, though starting to pay for daytime coverage is something that’s been discussed.
Both fire companies have said it isn’t enough money to keep up with their evolving needs.
Beyond AMD’s plans, there are changes taking place that will affect the fire companies.
As town policy, Malta is encouraging development of a traditional downtown at routes 9 and 67 — a long-term vision now starting to move from concept to reality.
That will mean construction of high-rise buildings, with people living as high as the fourth and fifth floors.
New subdivisions and housing complexes are also being built throughout the town, and there’s community-wide land speculation based on the potential of the AMD plan.
And even though most of the focus has been on AMD and the Luther Forest campus, it’s not the only new high-tech industrial site that could generate new emergency calls.
The Saratoga Technology and Energy Park, the clean-energy research site being established by the state Energy Research and Development Authority on land adjoining Luther Forest, will present similar industrial materials issues, fire officials said.
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