Category Archives: First responder training

FEMA REPORT: Ensuring Rail Preparedness for Hazardous Materials Incidents

Public document from FEMA
[Editor: The seven recommendations appear on pages 4-7.  Pages 8-10 detail some interesting new technologies in responding to HAZMAT emergencies.  – RS]


US Department of Homeland Security - Federal Emergency Management AgencyThe RESPONSE Act of 2016 directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Subcommittee… to provide recommendations for improving emergency responder training and resource allocation for HAZMAT incidents involving railroads.

Final Report And Recommendations

Click to open the REPORT

The final reportEnsuring Rail Preparedness: Improving Responder Training and Resource Allocation for Rail Hazardous Materials Incidents, contains seven recommendations that the NAC approved, based on proposed recommendations submitted by the RESPONSE Subcommittee.


None on Kentucky hazmat team got new training for rail oil spills

Repost from the Lexington Herald Leader
[Editor:  I asked a knowledgeable friend about permitting in Kentucky: Was crude oil envisioned for Somerset back before its opening in 2007? Was there a more recent Continental permitting process before they could begin shipping crude by rail? Any environmental impact reports? Are folks in Kentucky opposing this?  Here is my friend’s response: “Long story short: Kentucky is pretty relaxed when it comes to permitting. Whatever business they envisioned at the rail park 10 years ago is what they can do. The area is nonattainment, so no air quality permits were required. All the environmental scrutiny the facility ever got was an EPA-supervised cleanup of the site, which was a former steam locomotive maintenance shop. Did that, got their wastewater discharge permit, and they were off to the races. There won’t be any meaningful opposition. That area has a strongly pro-business, anti-regulation bent. They built the county’s landfill over top of a cave system that feeds into the local drinking water supply and didn’t even bat an eye.”  – RS]

None on Kentucky hazmat team got new training for rail oil spills

By Curtis Tate & Bill Estep, McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 26, 2016 5:59 PM
Continental Refining has begun shipping oil and oil products by rail through the Somerset Rail Park in southern Kentucky.
Continental Refining has begun shipping oil and oil products by rail through the Somerset Rail Park in southern Kentucky. | Continental Refining

A Kentucky oil train terminal illustrates a persistent gap between the risks posed by increasing volumes of crude oil moving by rail and the training available to local first responders specifically for it.

Continental Refining, which operates a 5,500-barrel-a-day refinery in Somerset, Kentucky, announced this week that it plans to move oil and oil products through the Somerset Rail Park, an $8 million rail-to-truck cargo transfer facility that opened in 2007.

But no one on the 12-county hazardous material team that would respond to an oil spill or fire at the facility has received the training that’s been developed in the past few years for such incidents.

That’s in spite of a $2.6 million federal grant last year to Somerset’s Center for Rural Development to develop training for rural or volunteer firefighters to respond to oil train derailments.

$8 million
Federal funds earmarked to build the Somerset Rail Park

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress tightened safety standards for shipping oil by rail in the wake of a string of fiery derailments across North America. The worst of those killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. Last year alone, there were seven derailments involving oil and three involving ethanol across North America.

Continental declined to respond to questions about the safety of its Somerset operation, including whether the rail cars it uses meet the new federal standards and whether it had notified local emergency responders about the shipments and offered them training.

$2.6 million
Federal grant to the Center for Rural Development for firefighter training

Doug Baker, the chief of the Somerset-Pulaski County Special Response team, said the refinery had a history of working well with the hazmat team and other local first responders.

Continental had not notified him specifically about its shipments to the Somerset Rail Park, Baker said, but the refinery had made an effort in the past to include the hazmat team and fire department in emergency planning.

Baker said the special response team had trained technicians at the refinery and helped develop its safety plan. In case of an oil train fire, he said, his team had access to a supply of firefighting foam in the county and the trucks to pump it.

“We’re as prepared as anyone can be for a railroad derailment,” he said. “The response here, to me, would be as good as any you would find anywhere in the state and maybe the nation.”

People killed in the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train derailment in 2013

Railroads have offered new training opportunities to emergency responders since the Lac-Megantic disaster. Norfolk Southern, which serves the Somerset Rail Park, operates a safety train, a traveling classroom used to educate fire departments.

According to the safety train’s 2016 schedule, the closest it came to Somerset was Knoxville, Tennessee, about 100 miles away, in early August.

Norfolk Southern and other major railroads have also paid for firefighters from across the country to attend an advanced training class at the railroad industry’s testing facility near Pueblo, Colorado.

Baker said no one on his team had participated in the training in Tennessee or Colorado.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said first responders in Kentucky were welcome to contact the railroad about training opportunities by going to the safety train’s website.

1 million
Barrels of oil a day transported in trains across the U.S. in 2014

At the peak in 2014, about 1 million barrels a day of oil were moving across the country by rail. But because of low oil prices and new pipeline capacity, that number has fallen nearly by half.

Continental declined to specify where it sources its oil, but the refinery is capable of refining the light, sweet crude that’s produced in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, Continental’s Somerset refinery processed more than 200,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil recovered from the March 2015 derailment of a BNSF oil train in Galena, Illinois.


The shippers of oil products and ethanol are supposed to begin phasing out older, less-protected tank cars in rail transportation starting in January 2018. New cars must be built with thicker shells, better crash protections and thermal blankets to protect from fire exposure. Older cars must be retrofitted with those features.

Depending on the type of product and the risk it poses, the older cars can be used through 2029, with a two-year extension possible if the industry can’t complete the retrofits fast enough.

In a series of stories over two years, McClatchy showed that fire departments across the country lacked the resources and training to deal with derailments of trains carrying millions of gallons of flammable liquids.

McClatchy also used open records laws in more than two dozen states, including Kentucky, to obtain information about large shipments of oil by rail.

In 2014, the federal government required railroads to notify first responders about the shipments. Norfolk Southern sued the Maryland Department of the Environment before it could release the records to McClatchy, but a judge eventually ruled against the railroad.

Estep, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, reported from Somerset, Kentucky.


OIL TRAIN DISASTER PLANS: A burning need for the truth about oil train fires

Repost from STAND.EARTH
[Editor:  Highly significant. REQUIRED READING.  For a number of BenIndy articles addressing “Let it burn,” click here.  For “first responder training,” click here.  – RS] 

Oil Train Disaster Plans: A burning need for the truth about oil train fires

By Matt Krogh, May 13, 2016
Don’t believe the hype: The scene of a crude oil derailment and fire is an uncontrollable fire. All firefighters can do is evacuate the area and wait for the fire to burn itself out.

In the year since five fiery oil train disasters in the US and Canada brought national attention to the threat from trains hauling explosive crude oil, the rail industry has embarked on a high profile public relations exercise to reassure the public that deadly disasters can be averted by emergency responders. In fact, the reality of oil train accidents — and the unanimous opinion of fire officials and federal rail safety experts — proves that there is no fighting an oil train derailment and fire. The scene of a crude oil derailment and fire is an uncontrollable fire. All firefighters can do is evacuate the area and wait for the fire to burn itself out.

Images from oil train firefighter training circulated by railroad and oil companies show firefighters standing close to burning tank cars, training hoses on small fires. But as Fairfield, Iowa, Fire Chief Scott Vaughan described in 2014, “If there was a spill or a fire, our big thing would be containment and evacuation,” he said. “We train for it, but training and actually doing are two different things.” Very simply, there is no controlling an oil train fire.

In 2013 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, 47 people died when an oil train derailed and caught fire in the center of a small Canadian town. More than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in flowing “rivers of fire”, creating pool fires and filling sewers. Blocks away uncontrollable fires erupted from drains and manholes and more than 30 building were destroyed. Despite 1,000 firefighters responding from across Quebec and Maine the fire burned for two days.

When an oil train derails at any speed over the puncture velocity of roughly 10 miles an hour (for a common CPC-1232 tank car) a dozen or so cars typically come off the tracks, decouple and are thrown from their wheels. If tank cars are punctured, possibly by something on the ground or the couplers on the ends of the cars, the crude (either Bakken or diluted tar sands, both highly volatile) can easily self-ignite or find an ignition source.

Observations published by FEMA from County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness on the oil train explosion that rocked the small town of Casselton, ND, describe the derailment and the size of the spill:

On December 30, 2013 in Casselton, a BNSF westbound train with 112 grain cars went off the tracks. Thirteen of the cars derailed, and one fell on the eastbound tracks. Within two minutes, a BNSF eastbound crude oil train hit that car. That caused two front locomotives, a hopper car, and twenty cars on the eastbound train to derail, and 18 of them ruptured, exploded, and released 450,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil.

First responders to the Casselton accident were forced to pull far back from the scene because of the intense heat:

The command post was originally set up one-quarter mile from the scene, but they had to pull back to a half mile because it was too hot for the responders even inside their rigs.

A similar situation occurred in Galena, Illinois, where the fire from the March 2015 derailment burned for days. First responders, who unloaded emergency equipment nearby to fight the fire, were forced to abandon $10,000 in equipment on the scene when they pulled back to a safe distance.

The DOT Emergency Response Guidebook is quite clear on the initial response to a single tank car disaster: “If tank, rail car or tank truck is involved in a fire, isolate for 800 meters (1/2 mile) in all directions” But this direction is for a single tank car, and oil train disasters almost always involve many more than one car.

Emergency response to oil trains traveling across the US and Canada is left to municipal fire departments. Few fire departments have the manpower, training, or equipment to respond to more than a single burning 10,000-gallon tank truck of crude. An oil train tank car carries triple that, and most oil train disasters involve way more than a single tank car. As North Dakota Emergency Manager Rogness describes:

“There were few options for fighting the fire. Water should not be put on exploding crude oil. Firefighters did not have enough foam in four counties together to put the fire out, plus the foam would freeze in the cold. Dry chemicals were not available. The only choice was to let it burn, which BNSF responders said would take about 12 hours. It took more than 24. Political leaders were skeptical of the strategy.

In fact, federal guidelines for emergency responders for oil train fires state very clearly that the only option is to let the oil burn itself out.

In the event of an incident that may involve the release of thousands of gallons of product and ignition of tank cars of crude oil in a unit train, most emergency response organizations will not have the available resources, capabilities or trained personnel to safely and effectively extinguish a fire or contain a spill of this magnitude.

In 2015 in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, tens of thousands of gallons of burning crude escaped punctured cars, flowing into the nearby river and forming a pool fire under other tank cars. Under the intense heat those additional cars began to rupture and explode. A report on oil train safety by the Interagency Board, which coordinates local, state and federal agencies on emergency response, described the situation on the ground during the 2015 West Virginia oil train accident:

During the derailment sequence, two tank cars were initially punctured releasing more than 50,000 gallons of crude oil. Of the 27 tank cars that derailed, 19 cars became involved in the pileup and post-accident pool fire. The pool fire caused thermal tank shell failures on 13 tank cars that otherwise survived the initial accident.

Emergency responders at the Mount Carbon, WV incident reported the first thermal failure about 25 minutes after the accident. Within the initial 65 minutes of the incident, at least four tank car failures with large fireball eruptions occurred. The 13th and last thermal failure occurred more than 10 hours after the accident.

With oil trains continuing to run across North America, it’s a question of when, not if, we will experience the next fatal oil train accident. As Christopher A. Hart of the National Transportation Safety Board explained in January 2016, “We have been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area… But an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time.”

Realistic oil train disaster preparations would not involve firefighters spraying tank cars for cameras. The first, most important step would be to recognize — as emergency responders across the country freely admit — that no municipal fire department can control an oil train fire.

An upcoming Department of Transportation rulemaking is intended to provide oil train information and preparedness (materials and training) for first responders around the country. Unfortunately, that new rule has been delayed for years and the draft rules are not expected until late 2017. It will be years before the final rules are released, leaving dangerous tank cars, volatile crude, and unprepared communities to bear the risks of oil train traffic.

And thorough reporting by DeSmog Blog on the weak existing regulatory standards and the oil and rail industry’s failure to meet them demonstrates, there have been no improvements in the safety of the 100,000 unsafe tank cars in the US fleet. The steps oil shippers have promised to improve the safety of oil trains are as hollow and inadequate as the promise of firefighters dousing burning oil tank cars.

Real emergency preparedness for oil trains would involve preparing for massive amounts of spilled crude oil by developing evacuation protocols for the 25 million Americans who live in the oil train blast zone. It would include modeling the flow of burning crude, likely toxic plumes and wildfires. It would also require much better information sharing and coordination with emergency officials on oil train hazardous cargo, routes, and scheduling, information which railroads have strongly resisted sharing.

According to the National Fire Protection Association 69 percent of the 1.1 million firefighters in North America serve in volunteer fire departments. They are not trained or equipped for effective oil train emergency response – in fact, the scale and danger of an oil train fire puts our emergency responders, like the millions who live along the tracks, at unacceptable risk. The railroads are providing some highly touted emergency training to a tiny sliver of this massive force, but the reality is that these efforts are staged to misinform the public, not prepare emergency responders.

Federal emergency response guidance and fire chiefs have long recognized that there is no effective emergency response to a crude oil derailment fire event. If even one tank car of crude oil is involved in a fire, federal guidelines are clear that firefighters should pull back half a mile and let it burn. And that is another good reason that oil trains are too dangerous for the rails.

Many thanks to Fred Millar for his research and analysis.

[Editor:  For a number of Benicia Independent articles addressing “Let it burn,” click here.  For “first responder training,” click here.  – RS] 

VIDEO RECAP: Mass Casualty Drill in Roseville, CA

Repost from Rocklin & Roseville Today
[Editor:  Be aware that these exercises and the promo “news accounts” that follow them are not much more than rosy public relation spins on the reality of catastrophic spills, fires and explosions resulting from oil train derailments. We can hope the first responders learned something, but no one is telling them – or us – that in a real crude oil explosion and fire, the ONLY thing to be done is evacuate and let it burn. See previous announcement details here, additional coverage by the City of Roseville. and the event Goals and Objectives worksheet here.   – RS]

Video Recap: Roseville Mass Casualty Drill

Placer County / Thursday, May 19, 2016

ROSEVILLE, Calif. — First responders from 35 local agencies converged on Roseville to rescue the victims of a staged but horrific accident: a collision of a train carrying volatile crude oil and a public transit bus. But the evacuation and treatment of the injured was just the beginning.

Fire fighters, police and other emergency workers then had to contend with leaking oil from one derailed train car, an ammonia gas leak from another and a fire when the crude ignited. First word of the accident reached them at around 8:15 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., exercise players had evacuated 57 injured bus riders to area hospitals (several by helicopter), built a temporary dam to contain the oil spill, extinguished the fire and coordinated the (pretend) evacuation of 8,000 area residents. Thank goodness it was just a drill.

“If such a large disaster ever did happen here, we’d need everyone to be on the same page and working together as effectively as possible, because lives depend on it,” said John McEldowney, program manager for Placer County’s Office of Emergency Services. “We definitely learned some lessons today, but overall I couldn’t have been more impressed with the professionalism and skill of our first responders. If the worst happens, I’m confident we’ll be in the best of hands.”

The exercise took place at the Roseville Fire Department Training Center in Roseville, near the Union Pacific switchyards, with medical evacuations staged in the parking lot of Denio’s Market up the road.

Placer County’s Office of Emergency Services held the exercise to give first responders from various agencies the opportunity to practice working together and test how well they can come together in a crisis. It was also a great chance to test the county’s recently finalized oil-by-rail response guide, which was developed to aid our first responder fire and law enforcement community and specialized response teams in the unlikely event an oil train disaster were to occur here.

The Red Cross coordinated for the participation of nearly 60 volunteers, most of them serving as mock accident victims.

For the quickest warning and information in a real crisis, Placer residents are encouraged to sign up for the Placer Alert emergency notification system at