Local fire departments discuss oil train disaster preparedness - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Local fire departments discuss oil train disaster preparedness

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SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. -  The commercial railroad industry is a huge part of the Inland Northwest, but as big of a role as it is in the economy, there are obvious concerns about potential disasters involving trains carrying Bakken crude oil and other hazardous materials. 

If one of those disasters were to occur, firefighters say there would need to be a response much greater than what Spokane could provide.

KHQ spoke with some local fire departments about their level of preparedness in the event of a large scale emergency, and they told us they're already thinking about what could go wrong.

That means anything like a small hazmat leak, to a large scale explosion like Monday's train derailment in West Virginia.

Trains carry Bakken crude, which was on-board the train that derailed in West Virginia, travel through Spokane on a daily basis.  

Firefighters say the flash point on Bakken crude is very low, meaning it doesn't take much heat for it to ignite. Their concerns aren't just limited to crude oil.

"It's a potpourri of hazardous chemicals," Spokane Valley Fire Department Deputy Chief Andy Hail says. "We have anything from fuming sulfuric acid to ethanol, to crude oil to gasoline to any types of corrosives and caustics."

The chemicals are relatively safe to travel when contained properly and securely in their vessels, but in the instance of a derailment or leak the circumstances can become dangerous.

"The entire region has been preparing for a large hazmat incident for years," Spokane Fire Department Asst. Chief Brian Schaeffer says.

The training for hazmat is constant. Local fire districts are all trained on operational hazmat levels and the Spokane Fire Dept., Kootenai County Fire & Rescue, and Fairchild Air Force Base all have specialists and highly trained technicians. 

In the event of a disaster many different agencies, locally, statewide and even federally would become involved. 

"The actual emergency response is going to be fairly minimal compared to what the overall extent of the event is with the cleanup and thing of that nature," Deputy Chief Hail says.  

"In terms of Bakken crude and contamination possibility the exposure it could be years that we would have resources committed to dealing with the effects of that tragedy if it were to occur," Asst. Chief Schaeffer says.

There are two bills moving through the Washington State House and Senate that are trying to make sure there is an increased number of inspectors available to make sure it's as safe as possible to transport these products, and to provide additional training for first responders.

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