Emergency responders trained for derailments - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Emergency responders trained for derailments

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ONALASKA, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- In the wake of recent train derailments, some members of Congress are calling for a review of rail safety.

In December, a derailment in Casselton, North Dakota led to the evacuation of residents. Another incident in two harbors Minnesota injured two workers.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to hold a hearing on safety protocols.

"Recent incidents involving freight trains have raised concerns even among those very Americans who depend on rail for jobs, commerce and transport," Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement. "Our 21st century economy demands a 21st century transportation network that includes rail safety investments that protect communities from derailments involving hazardous materials."

Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz made a similar request of the House's Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials committee.

Hundreds of rail cars pass through La Crosse County each day, many carrying chemicals. Although a derailment is rare, it can be devastating. The average car holds about 30,000 gallons of material, so emergency responders need to be prepared.

"Chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, a lot of the big boy dangerous kinds of  things move through here on a regular basis and we've never had a problem and we don't anticipate that we ever will but we want to know how to respond to that and do it appropriately," said Keith Butler, with La Crosse County Emergency Management.

First responders regularly undergo training for a derailment or chemical spill. Onalaska Fire Chief Don Dominick says all his firefighters have hazardous material training.

"With haz mats there a bit different approach than going to a fire," Chief Dominick said. "Its' not how quickly you can put up a ladder...it's how quickly and safely can you identify what's there and a potential of how terrible it can get. Where are the wind currents, where is the topography, where are the waterways that could transport those chemicals to our residents?"

To help firefighters in their response, each rail car is marked with a number. Those numbers correspond with an emergency response guide put out by the Department of Transportation.

That guide tells responders the biggest threats, whether is fire, explosion or health concerns. The guide also says if an evacuation is necessary. If there are multiple materials on a train, a derailment could cause them to mix, so haz mat training involves some chemistry.

"What we have to be cognoscente of is two chemicals that are involved in an accident that are mixing together that don't like each other very much and it creates a totally different chemical," Chief Dominick said.

Chief Dominick says firefighters practice navigating different rail cars, so they know where the numbers identifying the materials on board are located.

The La Crosse County Emergency Management Department is also working with area fire departments to determine how much fire foam is available. The foam is what would be needed to fight a crude oil fire. Crude oil is frequently transported through the La Crosse County area.

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