WILLMAR — Railroad disasters involving Bakken crude oil are much like opening a can of highly carbonated soda, but instead involve dangerous, explosive materials. Even large quantities of water and foam sometimes are not enough to stop fires on train cars carrying the highly flammable oil, Bird Island Assistant Fire Chief Dave Woelfel said.
Woelfel learned how to combat these types of fires earlier this month during training at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colorado.
During the three-day training, sponsored by Union Pacific Railroad, firefighters fought actual train car fires during simulation exercises.
“What we learned was how to put out the fires and how to respond correctly so we don’t do any more damage to train derailment …your typical fire tactics have to be changed and magnified to do the job,” Woelfel said in a telephone interview.
Bakken oil poses a safety risk along railways because it is highly flammable, containing a large amount of natural gas liquids. About seven trains a week carry western North Dakota crude oil through Minnesota. Many of the oil trains enter Minnesota in Moorhead and travel to the Twin Cities, but some go through Willmar, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Dan Wolff, Bird Island fire captain and civil defense director, also attended the training in Pueblo. He said it was “an eye-opening experience” that will help the Bird Island Fire Department identify resources and further plan an emergency response in the case of an oil train derailment.
“It was about as close to real as a guy could get without dealing with real deal,” Wolff said in a phone interview.
During training, Wolff learned that safety is a primary concern during crude-by-rail emergencies.
“The one thing they stressed is safety first, incident second,” Wolff said.
Before actually battling a fire or oil spill, firefighters have to carefully analyze the situation, identify what material is inside the rail cars and test the air for chemicals. During training, firefighters also learned that the first course of action in fighting oil train fires is often to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to other railcars.
“We got to dig into the depth of the build and design of the railroad cars,” Woelfel said.
The Willmar Fire Department also attended the same training in October at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center. The Willmar Fire Department’s training was sponsored by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Willmar Fire Chief Gary Hendrickson said.
New statewide laws enacted in July require railroads to provide emergency response training to all fire departments located along oil train routes, according to MnDOT. The laws also require railroads to submit disaster prevention and emergency response plans, to have adequate emergency equipment and participate in increased safety inspections.
Wolff emphasized that local firefighters should attend the crude-by-rail emergency response training if they are able.
“I would strongly suggest that if some of the departments in the area get a chance, to jump all over it. It was just some of the best training I’ve received,” Wolff said.
(c)2015 West Central Tribune (Willmar, Minn.)
This article was written by Nicole Hovatter from West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.