GLOUCESTER COUNTY, N.J. --Members of a hazmat crew that responded to last month's train derailment and chemical spill in South Jersey abruptly resigned from their county's hazmat team this week. The firefighters say they were put in danger unnecessarily and they blame Gloucester County.
Top officials with Washington Township Fire Department are angry-- they say the county did not protect their guys the way they should have. Some of their first responders are especially concerned, because their urine tested for high levels of the chemical that spilled in Paulsboro.
First responders are the men and women who run toward a disaster, while everyone else runs away. November 30th was no different, when a train carrying a chemical called vinyl chloride spilled some of its contents. But when the hazmat crews from Washington Township arrived on scene, they say they didn't have the equipment they needed. "It was unnecessarily putting people in harm's way," Sam Micklus, the chairman of the Washington Township Board of Fire Commissioners told Fox 29. "Firefighters get in harm's way but you mitigate all those risks by taking precautions ahead of time," Micklus insisted. "It's kind of like asking a police SWAT team to go hunt down an active shooter somewhere, and they get to their SWAT vehicle and they find out there's no bullets in their weapons," Chief John Hoffman of the Washington Township Fire Department added.
The firefighters from Washington Township are members of a hazmat team run by Gloucester County. The county is in charge of maintaining the equipment. But the township's fire chief says several of the meters that monitor air quality didn't work. The batteries were dead. And he says none of his guys had access to working canister respirators, to help them breathe clean air. Alarming, considering vinyl chloride can cause cancer. "We don't know what's going to happen five years from now," Hoffman said. "Do we have firefighters in our organization who were exposed to this product unnecessarily? Who are going to be sick?"
So Sam Micklus wrote a letter to Gloucester County, saying he was pulling his nine firefighters out of the hazmat team, until things changed. "They really want to be part of this team," Micklus said. "They're trained for it, they're enthusiastic about it. They just no longer trust the way the team's managed and organized."
So what's Gloucester County saying? No official would give Fox 29 an on camera interview. But the county released a statement this afternoon, saying officials are reviewing the matter. And they say despite the withdrawal by Washington Township, the county hazmat team remains adequately staffed in the event of another disaster.