Friday’s evacuation of Wilton residents living around a propane distribution facility was briefly delayed because town officials didn’t remember how to arrange a reverse 911 call, the town supervisor said Tuesday.
“We could have sped up the evacuation process if I had remembered how to do it,” Supervisor Arthur Johnson acknowledged.
Retraining on how to set up a reverse 911 call will be taking place for the town’s emergency director today.
A reverse 911 call telling people to leave their homes and businesses was arranged, but not before public safety officials first started going door-to-door. Other than that, officials said the handling of the propane leak and evacuation Friday evening went well from a public safety perspective.
About 140 people living within a half-mile of the AmeriGas facility on Commerce Park Drive were evacuated as a precaution after a valve on a 17,000-gallon propane storage tank cracked, causing a leak of the explosively flammable gas.
AmeriGas personnel transferred the propane in that tank into other on-site tanks, a process that took several hours. They called the Wilton Fire Department as a precaution, and upon arrival, officials decided on a precautionary evacuation of nearby residents.
Firefighters were first notified about 4:50 p.m., and evacuated residents were allowed to return about 11 p.m. Ballard, Dimmick and Gurn Springs roads were all closed for a time. No injuries or damage were reported.
The cause of the propane leak remains under investigation.
“The cooperation was tremendous up there between the sheriff, [emergency medical services] and town officials,” said Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo.
There are no lingering problems, said county Fire Coordinator Ed Tremblay.
“I talked to the chief [Bill Morgan]. He said it was very successful,” Tremblay told the county Public Safety Committee at a meeting Tuesday in Ballston Spa.
Johnson, however, acknowledged he could have been better prepared. Supervisors are supposed to be able to initiate reverse 911 notifications in their towns, but Johnson admitted he’d forgotten how. He was able to talk to Dan Miller, of the county Office of Emergency Services, who set up the call from his home computer.
The supervisors were shown how to use reverse 911 when the county bought the system in 2007, but have not had refresher training. When the reverse 911 system has been used, it’s generally been county officials who initiated it.
Wilton’s town emergency coordinator, Larry Gordon, also didn’t remember how to set up a reverse 911 call. Johnson said Gordon will be coming to Ballston Spa for retraining today and will then return to town and give Johnson a refresher course.
Johnson said his town’s two fire chiefs — one at the Wilton Fire Department, the other at the Maple Avenue Fire Company — may also be shown how to initiate a notification call, so they can do it if he and Gordon aren’t available.
Reverse 911 systems allow authorities to contact people in specific geographic areas by telephone with a recorded message, such as an evacuation order. Setting up the call requires a computer to access a password-protected website that has several ways the geographic area to be notified can be defined.
The message and the area to be called can both be tailored to a specific situation. The calls go out simultaneously by computer.
Other supervisors acknowledged they probably set up a call unassisted, either.
Tremblay said the county Office of Emergency Services has left it up to officials in each town how often to be trained.
“It’s not real technical, but if you haven’t looked at it in awhile, it can be difficult,” he acknowledged.
On Friday, Tremblay started to set the call up himself in his county office, but then realized Miller could do it faster from his home computer because Miller is more familiar with the system.
“If anyone wants us to do [training], we’d be glad to do it,” Tremblay said.
Johnson said the town’s fire departments are also going to given an updated list of town contacts, since finding the right contacts was also a problem for fire officials.
“They need a ready list of contacts if they can’t reach me,” Johnson said.
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