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Training on the railroad: BNSF holds safety session for emergency responders in Dickinson

Press Photo by Nadya Faulx BNSF manager of Hazmat training Derek Lampkin leads a crude oil training Wednesday in Dickinson with regional first responders. The course is part of the company’s push to familiarize local emergency responders across the state with railways as crude oil shipments continue to increase.

Coal, ethanol, grain.

It all gets shipped across the state by rail, and often, as anyone who has to sleep within 10-blocks of the railway that cuts through Dickinson can tell you.

But it’s the hundreds of trains full of crude oil — 344 between May 29 and June 4, to be exact — that have caught the attention of officials and community members concerned, not only with the rapid increase in activity, but the potential safety issues attached with it.

Area law enforcement and emergency responders received hands-on training in preparing for and handling a crude oil incident Wednesday night in Dickinson, one of several trainings BNSF Railways will host around the state this summer in its push to build relationships with first responders.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the company’s focus is on investing in its railways to prevent incidents in the first place, but the trainings help local responders become “familiar with best practices” of dealing with locomotives and potential rail incidents.

The December train explosion in Casselton that forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents is still a fresh memory, but rail accidents are rare, McBeth said.

The rate of incidents has gone down over the past decade, though she said she does understand why communities impacted by railroads would be concerned.

Data recently made public by BNSF at the request of the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that between 11 and 15 trains carrying crude oil pass through Stark County on an average week.

“There’s heightened interest and awareness,” McBeth said.

The course, led in part by BNSF manager of Hazmat training Derek Lampkin, took place in both a classroom and out on the tracks with special training tanks the company totes from city to city.

Mark Dreyer, an eight-year veteran firefighter who serves with the volunteer crews in Medora and in Billings County, attended the State Fire School in Minot in February and said Wednesday’s class was more of a refresher for him, but that more training couldn’t hurt.

He said he’s seen so much in his two and a half years in western North Dakota related to the oil boom, both good and bad.

“There’s lots of benefits, but there’s a downside, too,” Dreyer said. “I saw how overwhelmed (emergency management services) was, especially in Watford City and Williston. People can only take so much.”

He said he and others in his community aren’t overly concerned about a crude oil incident, but “training like this just gets everybody prepared.”

Volunteer Dickinson firefighter Shawn Schumacher said responding to an rail incident —whether it involved crude oil or other hazardous matters —would be unlike responding to most other emergencies.

Responders have to deal with large amounts of materials, he said, and evacuating large area of town.

“You’re securing the perimeter, and you’re calling in for extra help,” Schumacher said.

A life-long resident of Dickinson, Schumacher said he’s witnessed the increase in oil in the area.

“It’s definitely time for some training,” he said.