Being ready for the worst

MARSHALL – Just last month, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Casselton, N.D., causing a fiery explosion and evacuating the town of 2,400.

That incident made a class put on by the Department of Homeland Security’s Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium on Saturday in Marshall all the more essential.

Area emergency personnel, including first responders and fire fighters, attended a daylong training session on rail car incident response Saturday at the MERIT Center in Marshall.

“Casselton really brings this into current importance,” said Lucas Youngsma of the Southwest Minnesota Chemical Assessment Team.

According to the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium 2013 course catalog, the rail care incident response course is designed to “increase the knowledge of first responders to better recognize and characterize the different types of freight rail cars, potential leaks and courses of action to be taken based on an initial site assessment.”

“Our course is based on responder safety, whether it’s fire, EMS, law enforcement,” said instructor Rick Hoffman of the University of Findlay in Ohio. “All these people are involved in the response. Our class shows them the risks that are involved and whether they can go in or not.”

“This is an awareness level introduction to railcar incidents involving hazardous materials,” said Youngsma.

Hoffman said he gives this class all over the country.

“Every place that has rail, this class is good for,” he said.

Hoffman said the rail car incident response class makes emergency workers aware that if a derailment does happen, what are their response capabilities and actions.

Back in 2007, Clara City experienced a major train derailment that caused a hydrochloric acid spill. Shane Nord of the Clara City Fire Department, who attended Saturday’s training session, remembered that day.

“Fifty-two ethanol cars (were) laid over,” he said. A third of the city was evacuated, he said. “It was a long day.”

When his pager went off, Nord said, he was wondering if it was paged out right, that there was an actual derailment.

“It wasn’t chaos, it was people going ‘what’s our procedure?'” Nord said.

Morris’ Chemical Assessment Team and the St. Paul Hazmat team were on hand at the site, Nord said, and surrounding towns, including Raymond, Prinsburg and Maynard, also responded.

“The evacuation went better than we though it would,” Nord said. “We hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Nord said the class will offer some guidance to go by, just in case.

“It’s going to help a lot,” he said.

Marshall Police Chief Rob Yant said the training session was set up before the Casselton incident, but it was necessary to know what to expect and how to respond.

“That has reinforced the concern of being prepared,” Yant said.

Mitch Mulder of the Springfield Fire Department said the class prepared him how to be aware as a rural area what they are exposed to when a railcar carrying chemicals would derail and the best and worst case scenarios.

“We hope we don’t ever find that out,” Mulder said about the possibility of a worst case scenario with a train derailment.

Jim Carver, a member of the Southwest Minnesota CAT, said the class was mainly review for him, but it’s still important.

“It’s a good refresher on what’s associated with cars and engines,” Carver said. “You never know where it’s going to happen.”