$5M in federal funds will support training for crude-by-rail safety, incident response
BISMARCK -- Officials say a $5 million injection of federal funds announced Tuesday will provide training for hundreds of first-responders in how to deal with dangerous incidents on the nation's railroads, including oil-by-rail mishaps like the f...
BISMARCK - Officials say a $5 million injection of federal funds announced Tuesday will provide training for hundreds of first-responders in how to deal with dangerous incidents on the nation’s railroads, including oil-by-rail mishaps like the fiery derailment that shook Casselton in December.
The funds will support Transportation Technology Center Inc. in Pueblo, Colo., a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads that offers training for emergency response to hazardous materials incidents on rails and highways.
first-responders can apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the training. The $5 million, delivered through the Department of Homeland Security, will help TTCI cover the cost of training and pay for first-responders’ travel expenses.
“For me, the joy of having this funding from DHS/FEMA is it will allow me to train 1,700 more first-responders in techniques that will allow them to be prepared in the unlikely event of a surface transportation hazardous material incident,” TTCI President Lisa Stabler said in a phone interview.
About 680 of those 1,700 first-responders are expected to receive training specific to the transport of crude oil by rail, which has been incorporated into several TTCI programs, Stabler said. This year, the center created a three-day, 24-hour training course on crude-by-rail emergency response, paid for by the railroads, she said.
So far this year, 24 first-responders from North Dakota have been trained in crude-by-rail response, and 49 are registered for courses between now and mid-December, Stabler said. The program has trained 86 Minnesota first-responders so far this year, with 80 registered for classes later this year.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who announced the $5 million Tuesday after pushing a top FEMA official in March to release stalled funds to TTCI, said resources must be invested in high-quality preparedness training for first-responders to keep communities safe.
“We’re doing everything possible to prevent another derailment of a crude train like we saw in Casselton, but the best offense is a strong defense,” she said in a news release.
More than 400,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled or burned up when an oil train ignited after striking a derailed grain train on Dec. 30 west of Casselton. No one was injured, but concerns about toxic smoke prompted about 1,400 residents to leave town during a voluntary evacuation.
Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean said nine members of the fire department will attend training at TTCI in November and December, with BNSF footing the bill.
“I don’t think there’s any department that could afford to send a whole group of people if we weren’t getting some funding help,” he said, adding the $5 million “is going to go a long ways on that end down there on the training facilities and the opportunities they’re going to present to us.”
Nowatzki is a reporter for Forum News Service. Contact him at 701-255-5607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .