La Crosse-area responders prepare for oil spill

There is more than 120 million gallons of oil being transported by trains along the Mississippi River each week. A spill could be devastating to the river.

Friday emergency responders got some training to be ready at a moment’s notice.

There are at least 40 trains per week traveling through eight counties along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. Each one is carrying around 3 million gallons of oil.

Friday local, state and federal agencies teamed up to make sure if any of that oil ends up in our rivers they’re prepared to contain it.

In this scenario, five tank cars carrying 150,000 gallons of highly flammable Bakken Crude oil has spilled into the Mississippi River.

The La Crosse Fire Department is the first on the scene.

“The most important thing is the immediate danger to life and health to the community and the public,” Capt. Jeff Schott, of the La Crosse Fire Department, said.

Being the first to arrive, the department has the important task of doing its best to contain the spill.

“Sort out where the oil is going and then deploy booms to deflect or divert or to get into collection points to be taken off the water,” Schott said.

Once other agencies arrive, Schott said, the biggest challenge is getting everyone on the same page, which is why this training is so important.

“Planning, training, exercising is the key to protecting the Mississippi River,” Stephen Lee, of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said.

“When an emergency happens you don’t have time to sit down and plan; you need to respond immediately,” Ed Culhane, with the Wisconsin DNR, said.

Culhane is one of the leaders and organizers of the training. He said there are more than 100 people, all from different agencies, and everyone needs to be working together to lessen the impact on the environment. So communication is key.

“From some of the things I saw, I thought it went pretty well. I did see some communication issues that we’re going to need to work on. That’s very much to be expected in a situation like this,” Culhane said.

Schott said things went better than he expected.

“Good communication and planning I think made this a lot easier to go off,” he said.

For Schott and the La Crosse Fire Department, as long as the people are safe, he feels things are a success.

“People are No. 1 and that is our No. 1 goal as a hazmat agency, as a fire department, is to get between the immediate danger, which in this case would be the oil and the public,” Schott said.

The Fire Department said for an oil spill of 150,000 gallons, it would require resources from every public and private agency in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. From Minneapolis all the way to the Quad Cities, and it would take months to clean up.

There are over 500 different species of wildlife in the area that all could be affected by an oil spill.