Wisconsin News

First responders prepare for railroad hazardous material accident

First responders prepare for railroad hazardous materials accident

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - With a second railroad line proposed to run through La Crosse rail safety has been a hot-button issue throughout the city recently. Friday, local first responders got some on-the-job training to become better prepared if an incident occurred.

Over the past three days the La Crosse Fire Department took part in railroad hazardous material training through BNSF Railway. It focused on rail safety and crude oil, but the La Crosse Fire Department said this training will prepare first responders for much more.

In the rare case of a hazardous materials incident, La Crosse first responders will be prepared.

"This training is basic training that we want for all of our firefighters," Assistant Fire chief Greg Temp said.

The two part training session gives classroom and hands-on training to those who will be needed in an emergency.

"The first thing that we're looking at is the safety features on all the engines and the safety features on all the cars, we're learning how to protect ourselves and then we're taking it to the next step and learning how to protect anybody who might be in harms way when something goes wrong," Temp said.

Temp says this training does more than prepare his team for a railroad accident.

"It's very important, and it's not just the crude oil by rail, it's flammable liquids in general. This training helps us prepare for an accident that would happen by rail, by a highway or any sort of transportation," he said.

"In La Crosse in particular, we have heard concerns from the community and one of the things that we're doing as a result of that is adding to their local response capabilities," BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said.

BNSF Railway says they train nearly 4,000 first responders every year, but with increased concern about oil tankers and rail safety in La Crosse recently BNSF is looking to step up its efforts here.

"BNSF owns these foam fire trailers across our network, but we've heard the concerns here in La Crosse and that's one of the things we're doing, is working out with the fire department an agreement so that they can use that foam fire trailer not only for the railroad but for any other incident that they might need to respond to," McBeth said.

"Crude oil by rail is a hot topic. I've seen what's happened in North Dakota, I've seen what's happened in Canada, you don't wish that upon anybody, but we are prepared here if the event does happen in the La Crosse area we are ready to respond, we will respond and we will take care of the problem," Temp said.

Temp said this training is voluntary and arranged through BNSF. He says all La Crosse firefighters took part in training this week. The last time they participated in rail training was a couple of years ago, at that time the training focused on ethanol.

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