Train Tour Provides Hands-On HAZMAT Incident Response Training

Five-hour course helps first responders put theory into practice.

by Corey McKenna / August 27, 2010
More than 700 firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians learned emergency preparedness on Dow's Safety Train. Courtesy of Business Wire. Business Wire

Hands-on training giving responders the opportunity to practice responses to hazardous materials incidents can be a rare experience. Kevin Dippolito, the emergency management director and fire marshal for Bristol, Pa., said the last time he had such a training experience was in the early 1990s.

Dippolito and his staff of seven career firefighters/fire inspectors were among 700 first responders who had one of those rare opportunities as part of the northeast leg of Dow Chemical Co.’s Safety Train tour. Over the course of eight days in mid-July and early August, Dow brought its train — boxcar classrooms and tanker cars with leaky valves — to three cities in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The course consisted of five one-hour modules of classroom and hands-on learning, including:

  • the anatomy and safety devices found on tanker trailers;
  • the anatomy and contents of locomotive engines;
  • leak investigation and remediation;
  • using chlorine kits and Midland capping kits; and
  • an overview of inhalation hazards responders may encounter during an incident. 

Halfway through the leak investigation module, classes were split into two- and three-person teams, tasked with opening the valves’ protective housings and fixing the leaks.

“We’ve had training with a lot of the individual things that went on there, like the tank car, the chlorine kit and things like that, but this was unique that we could see everything together and have real practical ways to solve a lot of problems we may come across,” said Tom Topley, emergency medical services director of Bensalem, Pa. Twenty-five personnel from his department completed the training.

The five-hour course is designed as a refresher for HAZMAT-certified personnel, but also provides awareness of the capabilities that are out there for non-HAZMAT technicians. “For the non-techs, it gives them that awareness level so some of the smaller departments in the rural areas [that] don’t have HAZMAT tech folks, but at least they are aware that those capabilities exist,” said Rollie Shook, leader of emergency services and security for the Dow Chemical Co.  “It also helps them to make a good path forward on what resources they need to get there to help repair what’s going on.”

The courses are taught by Dow Chemical employees, most of whom are local volunteer firefighters, as well as employees from the partnering railroad and trucking companies. At the end of the day, students receive certificates of participation.

The tour also provided a course consisting of video footage of past HAZMAT incidents to help law enforcement and members of local emergency planning committees understand their roles during an emergency.

The Safety Train is among efforts of several companies including DuPont to provide free HAZMAT incident response training to first responders as part of their participation in the Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response (TRANSCAER) program.

TRANSCAER is a national organization that assists communities in preparing to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials. TRANSCAER membership consists of volunteers from chemical manufacturers, transporters and emergency response organizations. It receives financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Transportation Department and Department of Homeland Security.
 
[Photo courtesy of Business Wire.]