CANTON — With the completion of his first month as St. Lawrence County emergency services director, Matthew R. Denner was sworn into office Friday afternoon by County Clerk Elect Sandy W. “Sandy” Santamoor.
Mr. Denner, who is also an Oswegatchie town justice, was appointed to the position at a salary of $67,479, by the County Legislature Oct. 7 and comes from Ogdensburg, where he was an employee for 23 years, with his last position being the buildings & grounds supervisor.
He points to his 30-plus years experience working in fire, EMS, hazardous materials and off-shore rescue as preparing him for the position, creating a sound relationship with fire chiefs throughout the county.
“I’ve learned a lot over the month. I’ve met a lot of people with the state in different positions that handle emergency operations and I’ve learned a lot from them. They are a good resource to reach out to,” he said.
But it’s been a busy first month as well, he said, pointing to the severe windstorm that blew through the north country the evening of Oct. 31 and continued well into Nov. 1, wreaking havoc and knocking out power to thousands of residents.
“I’ve learned that the dispatchers don’t get the praise that they deserve,” he said. “A lot of people, even me, have been guilty of complaining but when you actually sit and see them in action, what they do, it’s amazing. They do a great job.”
He said between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. during the storm, dispatchers took 430 calls with 109 of them coming between 6 and 7 a.m., a peak hour.
“I recognized my staff for the outstanding job that they did,” he said. “We didn’t turn a call over, they were all answered, you know, and it was nuts and they handled it really well.”
As to the path ahead, Mr. Denner said that while the office runs smoothly, he would like to improve on the roles the volunteer firefighters and rescue squads play by creating a tactical rescue team, which he said many of the fire chiefs in the county expressed interest in.
“We have one in the city of Ogdensburg (but) we recently had a situation here in the county where they didn’t have a team available,” he said. “They ended up reaching out to Franklin County, they came in and managed it, but unfortunately the lady was down in the ravine for like seven hours. She only suffered minor injuries, but there’s a process to get them out. So that is a project that I am seeing, going forward.”
He said the shared equipment throughout the departments would be a remarkable resource for the potential team and would prepare them going forward.
“Every situation’s different. There’s nothing really up or down. They’re all challenges,” he said. “I’m the type of person that loves a challenge and I take it head on, so I enjoy it.”