Cincinnati fire crews train for hazardous chemical spills

Cincinnati Fire Crews watch a haz-mat situation demonstration. (FOX19)
Cincinnati Fire Crews watch a haz-mat situation demonstration. (FOX19)

(FOX19) - Ohio ranks third in the nation for number of hazardous chemical spills involving rail lines and roadways.

Dangerous chemicals travel through the area every day and there have been nearly 13,000 hazardous materials incidents in the past 10 years, prompting the need for responders to utilize special skills to deal with haz-mat situations.

Thousands of tanker cars roll through the Cincinnati area every day, some carrying as much of 30,000 gallons of anything from ammonia to petroleum. If one or more of those cars derail, first responders must utilize special skills to deal with haz-mat situations.

During hands on demonstration, environmental engineer Dave Patten tells a group of fire fighters what to look for on a burning tank car.

"What's the first thing to burn up in a fire…..your placards….what's the next thing to go….your tank car markings….so you may not be able to identify it if this car is involved in a fire."

In the event of an emergency, railroad officials do not have to tell the public what's in a burning tank car, according to Norfolk Southern's Public Relations Manager, Dave Pidgeon

The reasoning is that the railroads don't want to be targeted by terrorists, thieves or pranksters. There is a document called a 'consist' which lists the number of cars on a train and what they are carrying, something Pidgeon says can be shared with those who need to know

"If there's an incident that document is shared with emergency responders so they know what they may be dealing with in the event of an emergency."

Hazardous materials accidents on rail, waterways and roads have killed 117 people in the past decade so why don't the railroads refuse to carry those materials? Pidgeon says the answer is simple.

"If a customer gives us a tank car full of hazardous materials we have no choice. The government requires us to haul it. We can't say no."

The training exercises are held every year in Ohio and 21 other states in order for fire fighters and first responders have to be kept up to day with the constant changes in the railroad industry.

Norfolk Southern, which conducts the trainings, says 99.997 percent of all trains arrive at their destinations without incident. The company says people living and working around the railroads should have a high degree of confidence in the nation's rail system.

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