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Southwest ND prepared for Wells County-like disaster

A fireball sends thick black smoke billowing from burning railroad tanker cars Wednesday at Heimdal, N.D., as rail and rescue officials stay back nearly a mile from the derailment. Authorities in southwest North Dakota say they're prepared if a similar incident happens here. (John Steiner/Forum News Service)

Local authorities are confident they’ll be able to respond effectively if a disaster or emergency similar to Wednesday’s oil train derailment in central North Dakota happens here.

The derailment near the small town of Heimdal, home to approximately 25 residents, prompted the evacuation of the towns and two neighboring farmsteads.

Bob Sivak, chief of the Dickinson Fire Department, said his department has been collaborating with other city and county response teams for such a situation.

“Planning is probably the biggest thing,” he said.

[Related: Wheel fragments 'of great interest' in derailment investigation]

Sivak said his department, along with the Dickinson Police Department and the Stark County Department of Emergency Services, are holding discussions for a response plan to a train derailment or similar disaster. He said he expected the number of agencies involved to grow as discussions continue.

Sivak also said the fire department has sent staff and volunteers to train at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colo. The fire crew has also participated in rail car emergency trainings, he said.

Since there is no piece of equipment that can singularly combat such an emergency, Sivak said the first lines of action are evacuation and establishing a perimeter.

“How do you move those people?” he asked. “Where do you take them?”

Those are the first questions that must be answered to prepare for disaster, he said.

“Large-scale evacuations are part of an incident like that,” Sivak said. “It becomes quite a situation.”

Stark County Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing said it’s the relevant fire department that has jurisdiction over a derailment area.

The fire chief evaluates the situation, he said. From there, objectives are made toward controlling the situation.

The type of response is “going to change based on the location of the derailment (and) the size of the derailment,” Fahlsing said.

It is Fahlsing’s job to help coordinate resources to meet the incident commander’s directives.

“I would assist the incident command with the objectives we’re trying to accomplish,” Fahlsing said.

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services has four main tasks in an emergency: logistics, planning, operations, and finance and administration.

Billings County Sheriff Pat Rummel said his county is prepared to handle a derailment.

“I think Billings County’s sitting really well,” he said.

The county is home to a major transloading site for Bakken crude oil east of Fryburg.

[Related: Company says oil on derailed train met new state rules]

Rummel said most of the emergency crews in the area are well connected.

Fire crews from Billings and Golden Valley counties have worked on fires together in the past, Rummel said, adding their paramedic teams are in “top shape.”

“As far as police, fire and ambulance, I think we’re pretty well taken care of,” Rummel said.

After the Casselton oil train derailment in December 2013, he said emergency training changed in his county to better prepare for such a disaster.

Rummel said this is evidence of how “training does come along down the line across the state.”

 
Andrew Wernette

Wernette came to The Dickinson Press from his home state of Michigan in April 2015 as reporter for the newspaper's energy, political, crime, courts and cops beats. Before The Press, Wernette worked at his university's newspaper as a section editor, as well as interned at a local county paper as a reporter. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, writing, cooking, taking a stroll and planning his next world travel adventure.

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