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Pennsylvania safety seminar puts focus on Bakken crude

Emergency responders from four counties gathered in Hempfield on Saturday to learn how to better respond to rail incidents, particularly those involving Bakken crude oil.

The highly flammable crude is transported from the Bakken Formation, an area encompassing parts of Canada, Montana and North Dakota, to oil refineries, some of which are on the East Coast.

There’s been an increase nationally in crude oil transport by train, said Bill Wright, an adjunct instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, who conducted the free training.

The 28 first responders at the Hempfield Emergency Response Center learned about Bakken crude’s properties, how it behaves and how to handle it, Wright said. Although the number of rail incidents involving crude in Pennsylvania has been low, there have been significant numbers in West Virginia and Canada, he said.

“The state was very proactive with this (training),” Wright said.

Robert Gerlach, Hempfield’s emergency management coordinator, said Westmoreland County’s public safety department arranged three of the training sessions, including an earlier one in East Huntingdon and one slated for January in West Newton.

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“Any time you can take training for a new hazard … it’s nice to do that,” said Don Thoma, chief of the Adamsburg and Community Volunteer Fire Department, who attended with four others from his unit.

Trains carrying hazardous materials pass through the area all the time, but Bakken crude is more hazardous than others, Thoma said. Firefighters may need special fire suits or foam when responding to a train derailment or other incident involving the crude, he said.

“It’s nice to know the effects of a spill or a fire,” Thoma said. “These are never things you handle in your everyday.”

Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl Jones said he brought a contingent of three fire and hazmat officials to the training as part of the research the Fire Bureau is conducting to put together response plans for dealing with rail incidents.

Jones said 25 to 30 trains travel on Pittsburgh rail lines every week, many carrying crude. The training reinforces his research and “puts a local spin on it,” he said.

“This helps us bring it closer to home,” Jones said. Mayor Bill Peduto “is very much aware of this danger. … He has his finger on the pulse of it.”

This article was written by KARI ANDREN from Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.