On January 28, 2017 the Oswego County Fire Service lost a brother firefighter who exemplified the “Volunteer Firefighter.”
Al Heath, better known as “Haz Mat Al,” passed away this past Saturday after a yearlong battle with cancer.
Al’s career in the fire service started when he joined the US Navy in 1970 - 1976, serving as a Damage Control Specialist and later as a Damage Control Instructor. Bringing those skills home, he joined the Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department in 1973 to 1981. In 1981 he became the Supervisor of Fire Protection at the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Station, working there through 1994. In May of 1981 he joined the Minetto Volunteer Fire Department. Over his 36 years there he served as a line officer, assistant chief (more than once) and chief from 1985 – 2002.
Al was a New York State Fire Instructor for 30 years (1986-2016) and owned / operated Fire Pro Technical Services (part time ’88-’94 and full-time ’94-2017). He was appointed Oswego County Deputy Fire Coordinator in charge of Special Operations in 2002.
It was through these three positions that Al worked tirelessly to improve the skills of firefighters in Oswego County and surrounding areas in all aspects of emergency response.
His passion for Hazardous Materials Response took Al all over the northeast. Teaching or learning, he never stopped. If he could make it better he would; if he could teach someone at the same time, that was a plus. Al was the driving force and led the way to make Oswego County's Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Team and (his other passion) the County Rope Rescue Team one of the best anywhere. If you were at a fire function or even on vacation and you said you were from Oswego County, New York, other firefighters would ask if you knew “Haz Mat Al.”
Over his 44 years in the fire service, Al touched generations of firefighters -- both volunteer and career -- and they are all better for it. More than once he would say, “I taught your father in class,” including me. Over the years Al taught three generations of my family.
I have had the privilege of knowing Al since the 1980s as a brother firefighter, instructor, co-worker, fellow state fire instructor, deputy fire coordinator and most of all a Friend.
Al was a friend to everyone in the fire service, always willing to sit and talk about anything to do with fire, ropes or Haz Mat. If you had a question, he usually had an answer.
Along the way, Al and his wife Jeanette raised three boys (two of which are firefighters), who in turn gave him his pride and joy (four grandchildren and three step-grandchildren). Nothing made him happier.
The loss of OS 600 “Haz Mat Al” is a huge blow to the fire service of Oswego County and surrounding counties. The void will be very difficult to fill. Al was a “one of a kind” firefighter, fire instructor, and friend.
Al will be deeply missed by his family and all those who knew him.
It is an honor to call him my friend!
Signed, Donald J. Forbes, Oswego County Fire Coordinator