MALTA -- Around 40 firefighters from a half-dozen companies in Saratoga County flocked to the under-construction GlobalFoundries computer chip factory on a dark, chilly evening last week.
They weren’t there to put out a fire, rescue a trapped construction worker or deal with a chemical spill, though.
In fact, there was no emergency at all.
Instead, the responders were there to get a crash course in what it may take if indeed disaster were to strike the sprawling facility, where more than 1,000 people will be working in the not-too-distant future amid a high-voltage environment, chemicals and heavy equipment.
"It’s not just about the training, but about the pre-planning," said Dennis O’Connell, an emergency response trainer with Roco Rescue, a company hired to ready responders and employees.
Gathering under dim light, O’Connell briefed responders on a cache of equipment that could be used in the event of an emergency, including ropes, gas masks and extraction equipment.
He also told them about the unique aspects of the four-story, 80-foot-tall building, such as low oxygen levels and the almost complete absence of elevators.
Responders were also given maps showing where hydrants and exits are located and taken on a walking tour of the cavernous facility by a specially trained team of construction workers with M + W U.S. Inc., the factory’s general contractor.
Responders have been brought into the construction site once before, but are being invited to return every few months to see how work has progressed and get updates on the project. They’ll likely be back again in January, officials said.
Last week’s meeting included firefighters from Malta, Round Lake and Stillwater, as well as the Saratoga County hazardous materials team and the Malta Emergency Medical Services squad.
"We’re really trying to give everyone who might respond an opportunity to see the site," said Amanda Gonzalez, the construction, health and safety manager for GlobalFoundries.
Company officials say acclimating responders with the site is critical for the simple reason that it is unlike anything the area has seen before.
Noxious chemicals involved in the production of computer chips will pump through a vast array of pipes inside a 300,000-square-foot production space. The facility will be connected to a nearly 13,000-volt power supply.
And nearly 1,400 people — greater than the population of Schuylerville — will be working on site every day.
"There certainly are some hazards that exist here," Gonzalez said before the nearly hour-long briefing.
Peter Shaw, the chief at the Malta Ridge Fire Department, said working with the company now is tremendously helpful in readying his team for the challenge.
The conversations have already shown what the department needs to get ready — a newer downtown station and a ladder truck that can top 100 feet are on the wish list — and led to more specific training, he said.
"There is a whole, ongoing process to familiarize us with all of the hazards that exist and create response plans to them," he said.
Despite all of the preparation, responders are expected to play something of an ancillary role at the site, however.
GlobalFoundries is assembling a response team of its own that will take over emergency response responsibilities once construction is complete, and the company has contracted with a hazardous materials team from Momentive in Waterford to respond in the event of a chemical spill.
Full-time nurses are also being brought on site to provide immediate care for workers.
"We will never expect an external responder to show up without us," Gonzalez said. "We intend to be pretty self-sufficient."
Still, Shaw said preparing for the unexpected is vital. This is the only computer chip factory in the world that is being covered by a volunteer fire department, and the task is monumental, he said.
"It’s a big project for us and something that is very unique," he said. "There’s a lot on our plate, no doubt about that."