Polmateer retiring as fire coordinator

JOHNSTOWN – He was hired one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and it’s what he’s accomplished since then that makes Fulton County Civil Defense-Fire Coordinator Allan Polmateer look back with pride.

“The biggest thing is upgrading Fulton County’s radio system for firefighters, and the burn building on Sun Valley Road,” he says. “Everything’s been fun here.”

Polmateer made his comments Thursday from his crowded office at the County Services Complex on Route 29.

The 62-year-old Ephratah resident is retiring from his county position June 27. He worked 30 years in maintenance at the former Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. in Canajoharie. But Polmateer said it is what he has been able to accomplish in more than a dozen years as Fulton County’s top first responder that has given him special pride in his work.

A longtime member of the Ephratah Volunteer Fire Department and its former chief, Polmateer said he plans to remain active in his hometown.

“Once you get the firefighter bug, it just sticks with you,” he says.

His advice to his successor: “You have to have a strong will for safety and the outlook for the people. You have to have a good work ethic and be dedicated to the position.”

Since his appointment in October 2001 as civil defense-fire coordinator, Polmateer has been responsible for planning, organization, recruiting, equipping, training and implementation of the local civil defense and emergency management program in Fulton County.

The position also involves responsibility for planning and supervising fire-fighter training and mutual aid services related to public emergencies. He also serves as the county’s code enforcement officer for county-owned facilities.

He has been especially proud of upgrading the radio communications system for all police, fire and emergency medical services units throughout Fulton County. Polmateer has worked closely with Massachusetts-based Pittsfield Communications on many of the upgrades. Also during his watch, Polmateer has had a say in bringing in more than $5 million in U.S. Homeland Security grant funding since 9/11.

Polmateer was personally responsible for the upgrade at the Fulton County Fire Training Center on Sun Valley Road. The concrete, so-called “burn building” is where many area firefighters train in real fire conditions.

In addition, Polmateer worked with the Public Health Department to establish Fulton County’s Emergency Operations Center on top of the county Highway Department building on Route 29.

Johnstown 4th Ward Supervisor William Waldron, chairman of the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee, said Polmateer has remained dedicated to his work.

“He’s done a wonderful job for the county,” Waldron said. “He aggressively sought out any grants for the county to make it safer to live in.”

County government was accepting applications until Friday for the civil defense-fire coordinator position. The salary range is $40,000 to $47,000 per year, commensurate with experience. Applicants need four years experience in firefighting and two years of responsible supervisory experience.

Polmateer said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “changed the scope” of civil defense and firefighting. The goal is to be in a much more ready state. Polmateer has acquired much firefighting equipment over the years, but doesn’t have a permanent freestanding facility. He proposed such a facility, but it has been rejected by supervisors for budget reasons in recent years.

He keeps some of the county’s excess equipment in an old storage shed at the County Services Complex.

Polmateer is also proud to have linked Fulton County up to participate in an 11-county Adirondack Regional Interoperable Communications Consortium which started in July 2012. The mission of the consortium is to coordinate development of a wireless interoperable communications network for all first responders. He has also improved communications between Fulton and Montgomery counties.

“I have had a wonderful relationship will the fire departments and the towns and the guys,” Polmateer said.

He also has had to work with many of them first-hand to fight and investigate some of the most noteable fires in the area over recent years. Those events include the spectacular April 24, 2008 West State Street fire in Johnstown; the Country Heritage Barn blaze, the Fiber Conversion fire in Broadalbin in 2008; and the House of Furniture fire in Perth.

“We’ve had fatal fires,” Polmateer notes. “That memory never, ever goes away. It’s a terrible thing.”

Much of his work over the years has also involved preparation and helping people after weather or fire disasters. He noted the county always has to have a sheltering plan and Red Cross evacuation plan in place. One major plan – the Fulton County All-Hazard Mitigation Plan involving all the county’s municipalities – is updated periodically.

Polmateer said he has also worked well with all the Fulton County supervisors over the years.

“Politics is a tough game,” he said. “You have to work at what you need.”

Polmateer – a 1969 Johnstown High School graduate who attended Hudson Valley Community College – now hopes to take it a little easier. He is a man used to worrying about planning for the safety of others. Now, he will be spending more time with his wife, Karen, and their three daughters and six grandchildren.

“That is the plan,” he said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com