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Franklin County working to get refrigerator trucks to add capacity to local morgues

MALONE — Franklin County is working to obtain refrigerated trucks that can be used to supplement morgue capacity at the Alice Hyde and Adirondack medical centers should the need arise as the number of deaths from the COVID-19 novel coronavirus continues to climb statewide.

The county Legislature on Thursday authorized a memorandum of understanding with the town of Burke to use a refrigerated trailer owned by the Burke Volunteer Fire Department. Legislators also authorized county Manager Donna Kissane to sign a similar agreement with a private company in the Saranac Lake area after consulting with them once an agreement is drafted.

The trailers would add capacity to the morgues at the two hospitals, county Coroner Ron Keough of Saranac Lake said. At present, Alice Hyde’s morgue can handle three bodies, and Adirondack Medical Center has capacity for four, Keough said.

There have been no deaths related to the coronavirus in Franklin County so far, but county officials are being proactive in case there are deaths locally. Statewide, nearly 2,400 people had died from the virus as of Thursday, with the national death toll around 4,400.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that models show the number of deaths in New York state could reach as high as 93,000 people, and President Donald Trump has said the number nationally could be around 240,000. Cuomo said the models show the pandemic is expected to peak in New York in the next one to three weeks.

The cost to the county of the Burke vehicle is expected to be minimal, with only a small amount needed to retrofit the electrical system, said county Attorney Jonathan Miller. The county will also be responsible for maintenance and fuel use, he said.

The moneys spent should be reimbursable through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he added.

The vehicle being eyed for Saranac Lake is currently not working and could require more a more extensive overhaul, Miller said. That cost will be shared by both AMC and Essex County, he said.

The measure approved Thursday authorizes the county to spend up to $5,000 for that work.

Legislature Chairman Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, asked if county officials had sought another vehicle that might cost less, but Keough said nothing else is available.

The nearest available refrigerated truck is in Boston, Keough said, adding that it could have been taken since he last checked.

“Everybody is gobbling them up,” he said.

The county is also working on a plan to double the number of available coroners by creating four deputy positions.

The county’s four coroners — Keough, Shawn Stuart, Brian Langdon and Bert Wilcox — are elected, but the deputies would be appointed. They would still have to be sworn in and file an oath of office, said Keough, who is chairman of the coroners unit.

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