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Teaming Up for Hazmat Rail Response

Thousands of shipments of hazardous materials traverse the United States every day, travelling via one of the nation’s rail carriers. Emergency responders must adequately prepare for and provide adequate resources to mitigate hazmat emergencies resulting from these shipments. Recent incidents have highlighted potential problems in emergency responders’ preparedness, awareness, response and ability to coordinate mutual aid to large-scale hazardous releases.

Under the Rural Emergency Response Planning Demonstration Project, the IAFC is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to increase awareness in the first responder community of the hazards that occur during hazmat transportation incidents. One particular component of the project is to repair identified weaknesses in the fire and emergency service's preparation for and ability to respond to these incidents.

The IAFC developed a platform to provide targeted hazmat seminars. Nationally recognized and specialized speakers in emergency response were engaged to help response organizations in the rural environment, whether career, volunteer or combination departments, understand these issues and know how to deploy comprehensive strategic and tactical approaches for hazmat preparedness and response based on transportation risks.

The IAFC conducted two popular symposiums that provided awareness of potential rail hazards that aren't well known by the rural emergency-response community. The presentations covered specialized rail response in several categories:

  • Rail incidents
  • Ethanol rail incidents
  • Propane transportation on the rail system
  • Unodorized propane
  • Mutual-aid assistance for rural incidents

Symposium attendees included representatives from multiple emergency response stakeholders (fire, EMS, law enforcement, emergency management and the private sector) reflecting the criticality of ensuring every response agency and public stakeholders has a common understanding of the hazards.

However, the IAFC understands that shared understanding is just the first step. Successful response relies on knowledge being applied toward unified goals. To that end, the symposium provided a unique forum for stakeholders to work together on community-risk planning.

Given the continuing knowledge gaps, a shortage of resources in rural communities and positive feedback received from symposium attendees, it's clear that enhancing awareness of these forms of potential incidents to the first-responder community should be considered a priority. The IAFC is currently exploring ways to bring this level of education to a broader audience, including the creation of an online training module that is accessible to all types of responders in any geographical location.

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