Tag Archives: International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)

Firefighter battalion chief: Russian roulette on the railways

Repost from Chico News & Review
[Editor:  This article is well-written and documents gutsy analyses by a regional firefighter and County officials who understand that local safety is at the mercy of federal regulators.  Three years of Russian roulette – and more.  A “must read.”  – RS]

Russian roulette on the railways

Butte County train tracks are Bakken-free for now, but emergency responders fear a return of the volatile fuel
By Evan Tuchinsky, 05.21.15
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Russ Fowler says the Department of Transportation’s new rules regarding traincar safety are insufficient. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAL FIRE

What is ‘Bakken’?

The light crude oil known as Bakken comes from fracking a geologic formation of that name under North Dakota, Montana and Canada. Less dense and with less carbon, light crudes yield more gasoline than heavier crudes, but also are more volatile.

Trains crash. That fact hit home last week when a passenger train derailed in Philadelphia and also last year, on Nov. 26, when a cargo train derailed in the Feather River Canyon.

The risk of devastation multiplies when the derailed train carries volatile crude oil. A recent spate of those accidents has garnered national attention, too, prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) to release new regulations governing the conveyance of flammable liquids. The measures have drawn near-unanimous opposition, though, and done little to assuage lingering local fears.

“My constituents have raised concerns and the Board [of Supervisors] is concerned,” said Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk, who represents Chico. “We’re hoping that some of the legislation and some of the discussion that comes forward will make even stiffer requirements on the transport of this Bakken oil.”

The DoT regulations came out May 1. Five days later, another oil train crashed, in North Dakota. By last Friday (May 15), both the petroleum industry and environmentalists had filed legal challenges to the DoT’s so-called “final rule.”

The International Association of Fire Fighters also has voiced objections. Representing more than 300,000 firefighters in North America, the IAFF protested a provision that allows railroads to keep the contents of their trains confidential—under the banner of national security.

Russ Fowler, battalion chief with Cal Fire Butte County and coordinator of the local Interagency Hazardous Materials Team, has additional concerns. DoT regulations phase out tank cars that are not up to the current safety standard, rather than pull them off the rails for retrofitting or retirement. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has argued that the alternative would result in increased oil-tanker traffic on highways.

Fowler says one particular railcar commonly used to carry volatile Bakken crude oil, the DOT-111, “just [wasn’t] designed for that product.” Since railroads have until 2018 to get those cars up to standard, “we have three years of potential Russian roulette on our hands if light crude oil is transported down the Feather River Canyon like it was done last fall.”

Cal Fire has communicated with BNSF Railway, Fowler said, and has been told no crude oil deliveries have come through Butte County this year. “I have no reason not to believe them,” he added, though he’s seen DOT-111s riding on Chico tracks.

Lena Kent, BNSF’s spokeswoman for California, confirmed by email that “we are not currently transporting Bakken crude in your county.” She also wrote: “We do provide information to the Office of Emergency Services in California.”

That’s in contrast with last year, when train cars carrying millions of gallons of the explosive oil, reportedly around one shipment per week, did make their way way along the Feather River Canyon. Experts tie the reduction of imports to a reduced demand for the fuel, a lighter type that’s similar to gasoline and thus extremely volatile.

While Cal Fire dreads the prospect of an urban crash, the Feather River Canyon presents a distinct set of frets.

Train tracks head into remote areas that are difficult for emergency responders to reach. Access roads don’t always run adjacent to the rail route—not even parallel in certain spots. Depending on where a crash occurred, spilled oil could contaminate the Feather River and Lake Oroville—a major source of water for California—or could start a forest fire should it ignite.

Even without a blaze or river release, “it would make an ugly, oily mess in the canyon,” Fowler said. “It would be a terrible environmental disaster.”

Butte County supervisors articulated such concerns to the California Public Utility Commission and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, before the DoT released its regulations. OES responded by saying the state is investing in “purchasing new Type II hazardous material emergency response units” and in “local training specific to … rail safety incidents.”

For Supervisor Doug Teeter, the board chair who represents the Ridge, that’s little assurance. He has a powerless feeling—believing “it’s just a matter of time” before an accident happens locally, yet knowing “as a county we have no control” over the rails.

“We’re at the mercy of the federal regulators,” he continued. “All we’re really getting is a little response on improved training and equipment. That is not nearly enough to handle a 100-car spill.”

Either in populated or unpopulated areas.

“We as a hazmat team plan for worst-case scenarios,” Fowler said. “Just because you plan for a worst-case scenario doesn’t mean you can mitigate the worst-case scenario, because there are things that can happen that are so catastrophic that it would overwhelm local resources until more regional or statewide resources could come in to help.”

Should legal challenges fail, and in the absence of local authority, a remedy to the DoT regulations remains: Congress. Teeter recently met with a representative of Sen. Barbara Boxer. Meanwhile, North State Congressman John Garamendi has introduced legislation to make light crude safer for rail transport.

Teeter encourages constituents to write congressional representatives and senators. He finds encouragement even in the controversial DoT regulations, which arose amid an uproar.

“Maybe now we’ll have a voice,” Teeter said. “Maybe something can happen.”

 

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    New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

    Repost from the Bellingham Herald

    New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

    By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 11, 2015
    Derailed train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday. A CSX train carrying crude oil derailed at around 1:20 p.m. Monday, spilling oil into the Kanawha River and destroying a home in the path of the wreckage. Marcus Constantino/ Daily Mail

    — Lawmakers and environmental and industry groups criticized the federal government’s new safety measures for oil trains when they were announced earlier this month. Now another group has expressed disappointment in the new rules:

    Emergency responders. They’re among the first in danger when a fiery derailment happens.

    After another oil train derailed and caught fire last week, this time in North Dakota and the fifth in North America this year, firefighters renewed their call for more training and information about hazardous rail shipments.

    The International Association of Fire Fighters’ primary objection to the new rules is about their information-sharing requirements. But Elizabeth Harman, an assistant to the general president of the group, also said firefighters needed more training on responding to hazardous materials incidents. The rule didn’t directly address that issue, though some lawmakers have sought additional funding.

    “The training that’s needed has been developed,” she said. “This is the first step that needs to be funded and expanded for all first responders.”

    Harman said her group had been talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency about making more competitive grants available for first-responder training.

    Tank cars still showing accident vulnerability

    Tens of thousands of rail tank cars haul flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol, across North America, and most have weak spots that make them vulnerable to puncture and fire in an accident. A new tank car design has been approved, but is not widely available yet. There have been five serious oil train derailments so far this year.

    Old and new tank car designs
    Click for full size viewing
    Accidents
    Click for full size viewing.
    1. Feb. 14, Gogama, Ontario, 29 cars of a Canadian National oil train derail and a fire engulfs seven cars. No injuries are reported.
    2. Feb. 16, Mount Carbon, W.V., 28 cars of a CSX oil train derail along the banks of the Kanawha River. One injury reported.
    3. March 5, Galena, Ill., 21 cars of a BNSF crude oil train derail and a fire erupts.
    4. March 7, Gogama, Ont., 39 cars of a Canadian National oil train derail and a fire engulfs multiple cars. A bridge is destroyed by the heat. No injuries are reported.
    5. May 6, Heimdal, N.D., six cars of a BNSF crude oil train derail and a fire erupts, forcing temporary evacuation of Heimdal.
    *In addition to the 2015 accidents, the map locates selected derailments from 1981 through 2014 involving DOT-111A tank cars that polluted waterways and threatened cities with flammable or toxic chemicals.  Sources: McClatchy Washington Bureau, National Transportation Safety Board, Department of Transportation, Surface Transportation Board, Association of American Railroads, Railway Supply Institute

    Since 2010, an exponentially larger volume of flammable liquids, especially crude oil and ethanol, has been moving by rail, and with it has come an increase in risk to communities.

    “We need to be prepared for it, and we’re willing to be prepared for it,” Harman said.

    The rail industry and the government have funded new training for emergency responders as a result of the increased risk. Railroads train 20,000 firefighters a year in communities across the country, according to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.

    Since last summer, the rail industry has paid to send hundreds more to an advanced firefighting academy in Pueblo, Colo., designed for responding to oil train fires.

    While firefighter groups have praised the industry’s efforts, 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area, according to a 2010 survey by the National Fire Protection Association.

    While no first responders have been injured in multiple oil train derailments and fires in the past year and a half, they’ve faced numerous challenges:

    – When an oil train derailed and caught fire near Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30, 2013, a BNSF student engineer became an ad-hoc first responder. According to interview transcripts published last month by the National Transportation Safety Board, the student donned firefighting gear and equipment as he uncoupled cars that were still on the track to move them away from the fire.

    – When an oil train derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Va., on April 30, 2014, first responders didn’t know right away which railroad to call, since two companies operate tracks through the city. According to a presentation at a conference of transportation professionals in Washington in January, it also took 45 minutes for first responders to obtain documents showing them what the train was carrying.

    – After an oil train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., on March 5 this year, volunteer firefighters could reach the remote site only via a bike path. Once there, they attempted to extinguish the fire, but had to retreat when they realized they couldn’t, leaving their equipment behind. According to local news reports, their radios didn’t work, either.

    Harman said the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new regulations for trains carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids didn’t go far enough with respect to information that railroads provided to communities.

    Under an emergency order the department issued last May, railroads were required to report large shipments of Bakken crude oil to state emergency-response commissions, which then disseminated that information to local fire departments.

    But under the department’s new rules, starting next year, railroads will no longer report the information to the states, and fire departments that want the information will have to go directly to the railroads. It also will be shielded from public disclosure.

    “These new rules fall short of requiring rail operators to provide the information fire departments need to respond effectively when the call arrives,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the firefighters group.

    Susan Lagana, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said Friday that the department was reviewing feedback from emergency responders and lawmakers to address their concerns.

    She said the new rule would expand the amount of information available to first responders and noted that for now, last year’s emergency order remains in place.

    Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, said the industry was reviewing the new regulations. He said it had shared information with first responders for years and would continue to do so.

    Greenberg said the industry was developing a mobile application called AskRail that would give emergency responders immediate access to information about a train’s cargo.

    “Freight railroads have ongoing dialogue with first responders, residents and local civic officials on rail operations and emergency planning,” he said.

    Emergency planners in Washington state sought more information about oil trains from BNSF, including routing information, worst-case derailment scenarios, response planning and insurance coverage. On April 30, the railroad met with state fire chiefs in Olympia.

    “I think both sides learned a little bit about the other group’s point of view,” said Wayne Senter, the executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs. “I was pretty positive by the end of the meeting the information we asked for in our letter was either available or will soon be available either directly or indirectly.”

    Samantha Wohlfeil of The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald contributed to this article.
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      U.S. Mayors: oil trains must be drained of explosive gas

      Repost from Reuters
      [Editor: see also Safety of Citizens in Bomb Train Blast Zones in Hands of North Dakota Politicians and North Dakota seizes initiative in CBR degasification. – RS]

      U.S. oil trains must be drained of explosive gas, mayors say

      By Patrick Rucker. WASHINGTON, Sep 16, 2014

      (Reuters) – Dangerous gas should be removed from oil train shipments to prevent a future disaster on the tracks, U.S. mayors and safety officials will tell regulators in comments on a sweeping federal safety plan.

      The Department of Transportation in July proposed measures meant to end a string of fiery accidents as more trains carrying oil from North Dakota wind across the United States.

      Tank cars carrying flammable cargoes would be toughened and forced to move at slower speeds under the plan. But critics say the failure to address vapor pressure, a measure of how much volatile gas is contained in the crude, is a major omission, and intend to drive their point home.

      “That’s an oversight we’re going to push them to fix,” Elizabeth Harman, an official with the International Association of Fire Fighters, told Reuters.

      Responses to the DOT’s plan are due by Sept. 30, and so far more than 100 comments have been received. Typically in a contentious rulemaking major stakeholders submit their views just before the deadline.

      U.S. officials have studied vapor pressure since July 2013, when a runaway oil train derailed in the Quebec village of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people in a fireball that shocked many with its explosive power.

      Until recently, official findings on vapor pressure were in line with industry-funded studies: That the North Dakota fuel is similar to other U.S. light crude oil deemed safe to move in standard tank cars.

      But the DOT said last week that it did not properly handle prior samples and that a precision device, a floating piston cylinder, is needed to reliably detect vapor pressure dangers.

      Given that disclaimer, many officials simply want dangerous gas removed from crude oil before it is loaded onto rail cars.

      “The technology exists so it boils down to costs,” said Mike Webb, a spokesman for Davis, California, who expects nearby cities will join a call for safer handling of Bakken crude from North Dakota.

      Under one scenario, energy companies would siphon gas from crude oil and send the fuel to market via different channels. But building such infrastructure, like separators or processing towers, could cost billions of dollars.

      The North Dakota Petroleum Council has sampled some Bakken fuel using a floating piston cylinder and the results have been inconclusive, said Kari Cutting, vice president for the trade group.

      “But nothing we’ve seen supports the idea that Bakken crude is more volatile than other light crude oils or other flammable liquids,” said Cutting.

      But leaders of many railside towns say uncertainty demands the fuel only move under the most stringent safety measures.

      “There is a way to haul dangerous cargo safely and that means using state-of-the-art tools,” said Karen Darch, mayor of the Chicago suburb of Barrington, where fuel-laden freight trains cross commuter tracks as many as 20 times a day.

      North Dakota officials will next week hold a hearing to consider measures to de-gasify crude oil in the state.

      (Reporting by Patrick Rucker, editing by Ros Krasny and Cynthia Osterman)
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        Oil train fires require SWAT teams, veteran firefighters tell states

        Repost from The Island Packet, Beaufort, SC

        Oil train fires require SWAT teams, veteran firefighters tell states

        By Curtis Tate  |  McClatchy Washington Bureau  |  June 17, 2014

        — A pair of Texans with decades of firefighting experience is encouraging state and local government leaders to consider establishing SWAT-like response teams for crude oil train fires.

        A series of derailments of trains loaded with crude oil in the past year has exposed numerous safety vulnerabilities, including the integrity of the rail cars, the condition of the tracks and the way the trains are operated.

        It’s also revealed a yawning gap in emergency response. Most fire departments across the country are simply not trained or equipped to fight the enormous fires seen in recent derailments.

        “Emergency response is the most difficult part,” said Bob Andrews, founder and president of the San Antonio-based Bob Andrews Group, who has both firefighting experience and knowledge of the rail industry.

        Groups representing firefighters, fire chiefs and emergency management agencies have testified in Congress in recent months that derailments such as those in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota are beyond their response capabilities.

        “There’s only so much training you can do,” said Sam Goldwater, Andrews’ business partner. “Our first responders are pretty much maxed out.”

        Andrews and Goldwater said they’ve received a favorable response so far from the state and federal officials they’ve approached. Several states have expressed interest in their plan, but a proposal for a specialty fire department in the Philadelphia region is the furthest along. They envision for their proposal to be a mix of public and private funds.

        “We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to work something out in Pennsylvania,” Andrews said after a recent meeting with state officials.

        Entire trains of tank cars loaded with crude oil snake through Pennsylvania’s capital city every day, bound for refineries and terminals along the East Coast. The trains carry Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and western Canadian tar sands oil to a cluster of refineries and barge terminals in the Philadelphia area.

        Andrews and Goldwater say that airports and refineries have their own firefighting teams with special expertise and equipment. And, they say, that’s precisely what’s demanded by the rise in crude oil shipments by rail.

        “You need the airport idea,” Goldwater said, “but you need it for the 1,400 miles between North Dakota and the Delaware River.”

        In March testimony before a Pennsylvania House of Representatives committee, Andrews said that the nation’s 783,000 volunteer firefighters are dedicated to their work. But according to the National Volunteer Fire Council, their ranks have declined 13 percent since 1984.

        “It is not fair for the community, at the local or state level, to create an environment where well-meaning volunteers will feel compelled to commit themselves to conducting highly-hazardous operations, that they are neither trained, nor equipped to perform,” Andrews testified.

        One such incident took place in West, Texas, in April 2013. A massive explosion at a fertilizer storage facility killed 11 firefighters from five departments. In July last year, a 72-car train of Bakken crude oil rolled away and derailed at high speed in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The inferno killed 47 people and leveled much of the business district.

        “Volunteer fire fighters and emergency response personnel being thrust into catastrophic events without adequate training or resources is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed,” wrote the National Transportation Safety Board after a toxic chemical leak from a rail car in November 2012 in Paulsboro, N.J.

        Tim Burn, a spokesman for the International Association of Fire Fighters, said that a broad-based training program was still the best approach.

        “It is the duty of government to provide the resources needed for hazmat response,” he said, “and this public safety discussion should not be driven by profit motive.”

        Goldwater said he and Andrews expected a return on their investment. However, he added, if anyone wanted to make lots of money, “this is not the thing to do.”

        So far, the impulse of government and industry has been to simply fund more training for emergency personnel. But Andrews said that might not be the most effective approach. The firefighting profession experiences an attrition rate of about 20 percent a year. Call volumes have increased, putting more pressure on volunteer and career firefighters alike. It’s difficult for volunteers with full-time jobs to take off time for training, and most departments can’t afford to pay for it.

        The Association of American Railroads, the industry’s leading advocacy organization, has offered to train 1,500 emergency responders at its rail testing facility in Pueblo, Colo. But with the random and rare nature of train derailments, the odds aren’t good that a limited number of trained personnel scattered across the country will be where they’re needed when something happens.

        Andrews and Goldwater say their plans would be geographically tailored. Philadelphia is a major destination for crude oil, so its response needs may be different from places such as Albany, N.Y., or Sacramento, Calif., where oil trains pass through.

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