Veteran hazmat official honored for service

A Chester County emergency services veteran remembers driving his mother crazy because at age 3 he always wanted to know where the Longwood fire engines were going.

Tom Glass cuts his farewell cake as his sister and co-worker, Patty Glass Mains, watches.

Tom Glass cuts his farewell cake as his sister and co-worker, Patty Glass Mains, watches.

That youthful yearning eventually led Tom Glass into the world of first-responders. He even met his wife, Lisa, at the Kennett fire station, where she playfully stole his hat, and they’ve been together ever since.

When the West Grove resident retires on Nov. 4 as deputy director for emergency management, a position he has held since February 2015, he will have logged slightly more than 42 years with the county in emergency services.

At a recent farewell ceremony, Glass said he never could have imagined the career he’s had. “It’s truly an honor to have you as co-workers and friends,” Glass said. “A lot of great people provided me with opportunities. I don’t think I did anything special.”

Many would disagree, including Robert Kagel, director of the Chester County Department of Emergency Services. “Tom has made a lot of contributions,” Kagel said. “He’ll do anything for everyone.”

Ralph Hunter, who once served as chief dispatcher for the fire radio, said he recognized Glass’ passion early on and hired him as a fire dispatcher in 1974. Hunter joked that it was clear that Glass was not well-suited to some other related jobs, such as fire police.

Colleagues sign a farewell poster for Tom Glass at this retirement part last week.

Colleagues sign a farewell poster for Tom Glass at this retirement part last week.

Hunter recalled one incident when Glass was a teenager and was assisting with traffic control. In the process, he violated the law of physics, Hunter said, setting two vehicles on a collision course. “The accident probably would have happened, anyway,” Hunter said with a smile.

In 1988, Glass was promoted to communications shift supervisor, overseeing both the police and fire dispatch rooms, then located in the Hazlett Building on Walnut Street in West Chester. By then, he and his wife had one child and another on the way, and he was seeking an end to shift work that routinely included graveyard hours.

Glass moved into the Superfund and Reauthorization Act (SARA) coordinator’s position in 1989, where he was responsible for developing off-site response plans for the approximately 120 facilities in Chester County that use, store or manufacture hazardous chemicals. Five days into the job, Pennsylvania passed Act 165-1990, now known as the Hazardous Materials and Emergency Planning and Response Act, paving the way for many new initiatives.

Act 165 provided the means to form and fund the hazardous materials program that exists today, including the formation of the Chester County Hazardous Materials Response Team, which Glass helped organize. His job as SARA coordinator also provided Glass with a regular schedule that enabled him to have dinner with his family, which now included his son Matthew in addition to his daughter Samantha. Glass described that opportunity as “a culture shock” he quickly embraced.

Tom Glass (from right) poses with his wife, Lisa, and his son, Matthew. His daughter Samantha lives out of the area and wasn't able to attend his retirement party.

Tom Glass (from right) poses with his wife, Lisa, and his son, Matthew. His daughter Samantha lives out of the area and wasn't able to attend his retirement party.

Glass said he was also drawn to his new duties, and over the next few years, the Hazardous Materials Response Team became his passion. He said he appreciated the many technical training sessions he attended, meeting nationally recognized experts. He said he was chosen from his peers across the state to be one of the founding officers of the Pennsylvania Association of Hazardous Materials Technicians. He held several leadership positions there, including president. He counted his roles with the association among his proudest accomplishments.

In March 2000, Glass took over as Chester County’s hazardous materials coordinator and became chief of the Hazardous Materials Response Team, a position he held until he became deputy director of emergency management in 2015.

During that tenure, Glass said he retains indelible memories of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. As the rest of the county was reeling from the tragedy, Glass said the Hazmat Response Team had to rev into high gear as multiple anthrax threats occurred around the county. “Fortunately, those events in the county where all false,” he said.

As Glass prepares for a new chapter in his life, he has no plans to rest. He said he accepted a job with the Witmer Public Safety Group, a business that runs the Fire Store and the Police Store, which both specialize in equipment for first-responders.

Glass acknowledges that exiting the Chester County’s Government Services Center on Nov. 4 will be difficult. However, he can take some comfort in the knowledge that his family’s emergency services dynasty won’t end with his departure. His sister, Patty Glass Mains, will continue her longtime role as a public information officer.

Jeff Emmons, the county’s hazardous material coordinator, noted that Glass has served as a mentor to many and made immeasurable contributions.

“Forty-two years: That’s a lot of dedication,” Emmons said.

 

 

 

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