BEND, OR -- After last year’s oil train derailment in the Columbia Gorge, causing a major fire and sending crude oil into Mosier, many questioned whether it could happen here. With miles of track running through Central Oregon, a local catastrophic train derailment is not outside the realm of possibility.
On Friday, BNSF brought its mobile classroom to Bend, to help local emergency crews know how to respond if an oil tanker goes off the rails. Bend Fire Engineer Will Akins says one oil car carries the equivalent of three semi trucks. "Looking at what kind of resources are going to be required. We’re here to build relationships with the hazmat contractors and Burlington Northern, and build those relationships so that if an incident happens we’re more prepared; we know who to call, when to call." He has studied train emergencies before and tells KBND News, "When we look at some of the case studies, some of the hazmat derailments – whether they’re crude oil or general freight trains and mixed freight – some of these incidents have involved upwards of 18 hazmat teams, 34 fire departments, 36 police departments. So, they require many, many resources that we don’t necessarily have in Central Oregon." He says one oil railcar can carry the equivalent of three semi trucks.
About 50 firefighters attended Friday’s training, including crews from Bend, Sunriver and Crescent Lake, in conjunction with Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF). When asked whether the region is ready if a Mosier-style emergency happened here, Akins replied, "That’s the million-dollar question. I don’t know that when we look at these case studies or these derailments that have happened, can you truly be prepared? We have to call in resources from out of the area; we have hazmat teams that come in both through fire departments and the railroad. We hope that it doesn’t happen. But, we’re negligent if we don’t try and think about it, and prepare." He says the first priority would be setting up a safety zone and evacuating nearby residents. Friday’s training allowed firefighters to study the thicker high-pressure tanker cars being phased in by BNSF, which are designed to better withstand a crash.