- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
After expressing concern about the lack of preparation first responders have for dealing with a liquefied natural gas emergency at a meeting last week, Mickey Shymansky has stepped down from his position as the assistant fire chief of operations of the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department.
At a meeting only open to those who live closest to Dominion Cove Point last week, resident Barbara Patterson read aloud an email statement from her neighbor, Shymansky, who said local first responders are not prepared to deal with an emergency at Cove Point.
On April 16 at the Southern Community Center in Lusby, residents heard a presentation from resident Dale Allison about potential safety issues regarding Dominion Cove Point as it currently exists and issues that would arise if Dominion’s plans to export liquified natural gas are approved.
On Wednesday, April 23, Shymansky announced to a group of about 20 people gathered at the community center that he stepped down from his position as assistant fire chief that day.
Shymansky said his prior comments about the perceived lack of preparedness for a catastrophe at Dominion Cove Point were not the sole reason behind his resignation, but said that one of the reasons behind it was to avoid fallout in the future from his opinions.
“The local volunteer department is not equipped to handle a major [emergency] like the catastrophe in Plymouth, Wash., just as New York City Fire Department was not ready for 343 firefighters to die in 9/11,” Shymansky wrote in the statement read April 16.
Shymansky said he was not able to attend last week’s meeting, but after a conversation with Patterson decided to give his thoughts in a written statement.
The statement spurred a response from the fire department this week, and Shymansky said he resigned after the statement from the department was released.
“Mr. Shymansky’s assertions do not represent the official position of the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department,” the April 23 statement released by the fire department president and chief April 23 stated.
Attempts to contact Solomons fire and rescue officials for comment on Shymansky’s resignation were not successful by press time.
Shymansky said in his statement last week that the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department has received no formal training since his first meeting with Dominion officials in January. Several years ago, members went through LNG training in Boston and Texas, he said, and the department has also submitted a wish list for additional equipment, and some members have been briefed on high-angle equipment.
“Nothing material has been presented to date since January that I am aware of,” Shymansky wrote.
Shymansky said in his written statement that he also is concerned that the fire department will not be able to staff the apparatus to the required four firefighters in an LNG emergency. He said for an emergency during work hours, the department might respond with only a driver.
“Going out undermanned is common in a 100 percent volunteer organization,” he said.
Joe Ford, chief of the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department, said last week it is common for most volunteer departments to be undermanned with or without an LNG plant in the area.
“Calvert County’s all-volunteer fire/rescue/EMS services are not in the business of taking sides on contentious issues,” according to the statement released Wednesday by the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department. “We work to protect property and save lives in our community.”
Ford noted that responding to an emergency at Cove Point would not be the sole responsibility of the Solomons department but would be countywide.
“It’s not solely a Solomons fire department issue,” he said last week. “It’s a county issue.”
By press time, requests for information about emergency preparedness on the county level were not returned.
Dominion sends local fire departments for specialized LNG training, which Solomons firefighters received two years ago, Ford said. Just as when a new housing development is built, the department will have to add additional members to handle potential increased demand coming from the expanded Cove Point facility, Ford said.
The relationship between Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department and Dominion is ongoing, Ford said last week, and they will continue to work together as progress is made on the potential expansion project.
Shymansky said in a phone interview Wednesday that he wished additional training specific to the potential LNG export project had been provided already.
“Ideally in my world, you want to be proactive in your training, not reactive,” Shymansky said.
In the future, Shymansky said he will be more vocal in speaking out against Dominion because he does not trust the company.
“As a first responder, I’m not happy with how they’ve withheld vital information,” Shymansky said Wednesday, citing how the 60-foot sound barrier wall could also be used for protection in the event of a flash fire.
Michael Frederick, vice president of LNG operations for Dominion Cove Point, said the amount of training the Solomons department has received is sufficient for the current situation. Frederick also said Dominion Cove Point has its own emergency management for incipient fires, like small grass fires, but the company relies on the county for anything beyond such incidents.
“I can assure you we’ve worked with all fire departments on this end of the county,” Frederick said, and that if the plant’s expansion is permitted, the company would refine the training given to first responders.
“County volunteers are working with Dominion on equipment and training protocols for situations such as high-angle rescues, confined space response and even traffic emergencies related to the construction phase,” this week’s statement from the fire and rescue department said. “We are pushing ahead with these initiatives even though the expansion project has yet to be approved by federal and state regulators.”