First responders take hazmat classes on a train

Posted at 4:15 PM, Jun 21, 2016

Some of Western New York's first responders took part in hazmat training at Norfolk Southern in Cheektowaga.

"When you look at these tank cars, how do you know which is the front and which is the back? How do you know what's inside? How do you know if it's full or if it's empty?" said Dave Pidgeon the manager of public relations for Norfolk Southern.

Those are the questions first responders are learning to ask when responding to emergencies involving hazardous materials carried by train.

"99.997% of all hazardous materials moving on the rails network make it to their destination without an accident," said Pidgeon.

Norfolk Southern is a leading transportation company in the U.S. The company won a national achievement award this year. It also commissioned a new hazmat safety train part of their Operation Awareness and Response program.

"One of the reasons we came was because they have the 117 new rail car for crude oil," said Dan Imfeld the hazmat deputy fire coordinator in Chautauqua County.

Pidgeon said the DOT 117 train car is the newest and safest car on the track right now.

"These new tank cars are coming out with 100 minutes of thermal protection. It protects the material inside that tank car from heating up," said Pidgeon.

The new DOT 117 car also has a thicker steel shell and will phase out old cars, some of which are nearly decades old.

"Responding to a rail emergency is not like responding to other emergencies," said Pidgeon.

"When we think about fires we think about speed," said Imfeld. "When we think about hazardous materials we think about slowing down."

Imfeld said the best way to keep the community around a hazardous accident safe is to first identify the material on the train. That's something he had to do with his team in March when a trail derailed in Ripley.

"We had ethanol leaking during that incident so we had to make sure we didn't accidently ignite it," said Imfeld. "So it then allowed us to think about the community. How far do we evacuate? Do we evacuate?"

At Tuesday's training first responders got to download an app that will help them understand what the numbers on the side of the train car mean.

"Ask Rail can give first responders real time information about what's inside and what's on the entire train," said Pidgeon.