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June 9, 2014

Emergency management plan paid off for Sidney in 1984

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The Daily Star

---- — If there had ever been any doubts about the value of a having an emergency management plan in place in Sidney, all doubts were cast aside in June 1984 when a fuel depot in the village experienced a series of explosions in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 9.

“The village of Sidney emergency management plan has been in effect for less than a year, but ‘it worked a charm’ when fire at a fuel depot forced the evacuation of more than 250 village residents from their homes, according to Fire Chief Joseph Maddalone,” The Daily Star reported on Monday, June 11. Officials of the James Mirabito and Sons fuel company began exploring whether to rebuild the fuel depot, then found on Cartwright Avenue, three blocks from the downtown business district and adjacent to homes on two sides.

“Naturally we’re very concerned with the human aspects of this,” Joseph Mirabito, general manager of the company said on Sunday night. “You can always replace trucks and tanks, but you can’t replace people.”

Leona Becker, who lived with her husband at 55 Cartwright Ave., said she went to sleep around 2 a.m. but smelled a strong odor of gasoline.

“The first explosion knocked me right out of bed. We couldn’t get out the front door for the heat. It pushed us right back in,” she said.

Her husband, Sidney fire policeman Clarence Becker, remained in the area to help with the evacuation and crowd control. Residents of Willow, Knapp, Avery and Smith streets were all evacuated. Clarence Becker compared the second and largest explosion to an atomic blast, as it mushroomed out into the sky.

The ensuing fire wiped out three nearby businesses and four homes. A Mirabito truck driver was taken to what was then called The Hospital and then transferred to Albany Medical Center with second- and third-degree burns. No one was killed by the explosions or the fire.

On Monday, June 11, the James Mirabito and Sons Co. announced it would not rebuild on the Cartwright Avenue site, where the fuel depot had been in operation for more than 70 years. The fire had caused more than $250,000 in losses to the company. Joseph Mirabito said his firm was willing to help out residents who were inconvenienced by the fire “in any way we can.”

In early July, Mirabito and Sons said that they were interested in relocating to a new industrial park near the Sidney Municipal Airport, on some of the property formerly used by the airport and owned by the village. Construction of the 45-acre industrial park started in 1981 and was set for completion in the summer of 1984.

Joseph Mirabito said safety would be a main concern in planning the new fuel depot.

“This is going to be tops … a very modern facility. We don’t skimp on those aspects. We’re concerned about the community, and we’re not going to take any chances.”

Fuel tanks were planned to be put underground, covered in a protective coating and set in an impermeable clay liner, including a sensor system to detect any possible leaks.

The Sidney Industrial Development Agency sold a nearly seven-acre plot in the industrial park to Mirabito and Sons for $32,000. The construction had been approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

By late 1985, the new $400,000 plant, built to DEC specifications, became operational. The old Mirabito lot on Cartwright Avenue was cleared of debris and the lot smoothed over with gravel. At that time, Mirabito had its main office at 44 Grand St., where some other storage tanks were maintained.

This weekend: Oneonta’s downtown business district needed an amazing numbers of bricks for construction of new buildings in the summer of 1894.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.