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Albany Firefighters Drill For Oil Train Disaster

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

After oil train explosions made headlines on several occasions, residents in communities along the Hudson River became aware of the grave dangers in the day-to-day transporting of crude oil by rail.  Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a crude oil training drill Wednesday.

Following a summer visit from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and public outcry over the safety of oil trains moving through heavily populated neighborhoods, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy issued a moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the Port of Albany.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could not ignore the dangers and wrote to President Obama requesting immediate action to enhance rail safety. A few hours later, there was a derailment and inferno in Lynchburg, Virginia, one activists say involved the newer-standard tank cars Schumer has been pushing for.

The Cuomo administration invited reporters to an emergency services drill, staged apparently to show that firefighters are prepared to battle any rail mishap.   James Cable is Chief of the Special Operations Branch of the state's division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services office of fire prevention and control.   "This training is welcome to the crude oil issue because it deals with ignitable liquids and firefighting and vapor suppression involving an ignitable liquids spill. So the training is relevant to that but its equally applicable to gasoline, ethanol, any other ignitable liquid that might be encountered transportation stored or use across the state."

Credit WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

But the drill did not involve the port. A crude oil tanker car was not used in the training; firefighters practiced using fire suppressant foam to extinguish a simulated oil-spill fire. 

Sandy Steubing of PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, told the Associated Press that first responders can't extinguish fires involving the explosive crude oil shipped by rail from North Dakota. In the recent derailments, including Lynchburg, firefighters kept watch, letting the fires burn out.

Dan Baker disagrees with PAUSE. He is a fire protection specialist with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control and co-authored the training plan, involving the propane-water combination to simulate a petroleum fire.   "The training involves not only us showing the fire department folks how to determine the appropriate amount of resources that would be necessary to control a petroleum fire, but also the tactical skills to be able to bring those fires under control." 

Baker says it's a herculean effort to get everyone together for such a training.   "This prop and this training program allows us to train firefighters in a realistic and somewhat stressful environment that can be easily controlled and is as safe as is possible given the fact that there is a very large fire call."

James Cable believes Albany is prepared for any disaster.   "Albany has a foam trailer. The global terminal has a foam trailer. There are other foam resources available in the Capital District and they're working together within the county and neighboring counties to response to any potential incident."

And while the Cuomo camp has been publicizing increased efforts to address oil train safety,  Cable explains the drill is one of dozens routinely held around the state annually.   "We've been offering training specific to flammable combustible liquids for 15 years or more, our current course. This specific course was developed and has been offered over the last three years, so it's not directly in response to the crude oil issue or the increased visibility of the crude oil issue, but the things you're seeing today are applicable to any ignitable liquid fire."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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