By John B. SnyderNovember 26, 2013
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Nov. 26, 2013) -- Walking into the arsenal's historic Big Gun Shop one might expect to see heavy manufacturing running on the floor. After all, it was in this building in the late 1880s the Watervliet Arsenal was transformed from a maker of saddles to a maker of cannons. And, although there was a significant amount of activity in this building last week, it wasn't all about manufacturing.
Beyond the cannon tubes that were being readied for shipment, and on the spot where 16-inch cannons were once manufactured for U.S. Navy battleships, were about 40 community first responders sealing chlorine leaks and checking for radiological contamination in trucks, railcars, and tankers.
They were not responding to an act of terror but to a four-county hazardous material exercise involving up to 160 of New York Capital District's first responders. This was day three of a four-day training session and involved about 40 personnel.
To accommodate this training, the arsenal transformed more than 5,000 square feet of floor space into a first-class training site for the community. Given the cold temperatures this time of year in upstate New York, having an indoor facility was certainly a consideration as to why conduct the training on Watervliet. But, the arsenal has been host to several first responder training events in recent years and the reason is not always to have a safe, dry, warm space from which to train.
Arsenal Fire Chief John Whipple said the arsenal began integrating community first responders, such as hazardous material and EMS teams, into the arsenal's emergency response training plan about eight years ago. Many of the past exercises simulated intentional or unintentional acts of biological, radiological, or chemical spillage.
"With more than two million square feet of manufacturing and administrative space to protect, as well the challenge of keeping safe nearly 1,400 people who flow in and out of the arsenal gate every day, we know that we would need support from outside of the arsenal to respond to a major incident," Whipple said. "These types of exercises allow us to build relationships, as well as to better understand the unique capabilities that each response team may bring to a real-world incident."
Troy Fire Department Assistant Chief James Hughs, who was one of the senior trainers, said the goal of the exercise was to take 160 community first responders from four counties and have them train to standard in five hazardous material scenarios.
"Given today's realty of fiscal challenges that effect every community, and the sheer size and scope that recent incidents involving chemical or radiological spills and acts of terror have had on communities, no one community can handle the entire response without outside support," Hughs said.
The bottom line, Hughs said, is that no community could afford to purchase all the equipment that would be required to adequately respond to a large scale incident. Nor could any community afford all the training that is required of its first responders without outside support.
Whipple validated Hughs' statement by saying the training that is being conducted at the arsenal this week could not be replicated without outside support.
"When you take a look at the training aids brought in by the New York State Homeland Security office for this exercise, there is no way the arsenal could afford the training aids just to train our force," Whipple said.
And so, these types of collective training exercises, where multiple agencies provide unique equipment, skills, and financial resources, are critical toward building a package of capability in New York's Capital District that mitigates the effects of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological incidents, whether intentional or unintentional.
Hazmat teams came from Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady, and Rensselaer counties, while the trainers came from New York State's Department of Homeland Security and from the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs' 2nd Civil Support Team, Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army owned and operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 2013.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.