Jones Chemical fires security company, takes heat, hires new firm

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    WARWICK-Timothy Gaffney, the vice president of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management at Jones Chemical, said this week that "there was never a time" when the plant on River Street was without security. Gaffney was commenting on the company's decision to fire the outside security firm it used to patrol the Warwick facility, instead using its own employees to provide security for the chemical plan in the heart of Warwick. After an article appeared in the Times-Herald Record last week, however, Jones Chemical hired another security company to work at the facility. Both Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton and Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard were unhappy with the decision to let the security company go because they were not notified when the decision was made. "I think they made an error. It was short-sighted on their part," Sweeton said. "My biggest problem is that they did not notify us of this at all." Instead, Town of Warwick police first noticed there was no guard at the gate. After contacting the company, town and village officials were told by company officials that they made the decision to let Iron Guard Security Company go. "We went through so much hard work in partnership with Jones to set up a Citizens Advisory Panel," Newhard said. "It seemed like a great avenue. Why not go to the panel and run this past them? Give them the reasons - it is too costly? - and try to come up with solutions." Although Gaffney denied it was a financial decision to cut the security company, Sweeton said that is what the town was told. "It is not true that this was done to cut costs," Gaffney said. "We felt we could provide the same security with a different plan." That plan was to use Jones Chemical employees who have been trained in some way in security, Gaffney said. "We felt we had a better way to secure the facility," Gaffney stated. "We felt backed into a corner," he added, noting the negative response received after the Record article. "It seems no matter what we do, there is a negative connotation. In an effort to move forward, for the good of the community, and as a good corporate citizen, we found another firm." Gaffney would not disclose the name of the outside company. And when it comes to security, Gaffney said the company does not feel it warranted to let all of the information out to the public. When asked why the company did not inform the town, village and the Citizens Advisory Panel, Gaffney said the company walks "a fine line." "We don't know if we should be telling people about security," he said. "Our security plan is constantly evolving. We're trying to meet and exceed what is necessary to keep the plant secure." The town and village share that goal. Sweeton said the town has received a $50,000 grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security to increase security outside the plant. Cameras will be installed and will be monitored round the clock by the Warwick police. Lights will also be added to illuminate the grounds. An all-terrain vehicle will be purchased to make transportation on the site easier. Gaffney thinks that letting this information out could compromise the security of the plant. "I come from a different perspective," Sweeton said. "We want to give our residents assurance of the plant's safety. Letting everyone know we are adding security measures is helpful." Jones Chemical produces alkalies and chlorine at its operation on River Street in Warwick. Safety has been a major concern with the plant for many years, but never as vital as it became after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. People who lived with Jones Chemical plant in their backyards for years sensed a new urgency, knowing chemical plants could be future targets for terrorists. After a fire in a bathroom in 2003, which was in a non-chemical area, residents again raised concerns with having the plant in the middle of a mostly residential area. In response, the town and village of Warwick along with Jones Chemical met with the public, explained improved safety precautions and formed a Citizens Advisory Panel. Which is why Newhard was so surprised and upset with the actions of the last couple of weeks. "There was minimal dialogue here," Newhard said. "It is frustrating for me. And I agree with Mike Sweeton - this was short-sighted on Jones Chemical's part." Sweeton, Newhard and Gaffney agree they will do everything they can to ensure the plant is safe to all residents. "Maybe they feel under siege," Sweeton added. "My concern is: Are we doing everything we can do to protect the people of Warwick?" "We have been in Warwick for 55 years," Gaffney said. "We have been incident-free, we are great neighbors and most of our first-response employees live nearby. We have done everything we could to keep the public safe and informed."