Several dozen first responders from several suburbs in Chicago recently got an inside look at the type of railroad tanker car that is used to haul crude oil around the US.
Union Pacific Railroad brought one of their oil tanker cars to a rail yard in Chicago recently. This exercise allowed police and firefighters to learn how these cars are built and to be able to identify what kind of material is being hauled in the car.
This gives the first responders a better idea about tank cars and so they can relay information to the fire department in the event of an emergency. Hazmat teams also can be alerted to the nature of the emergency and be better prepared.
In most oil spills or derailments, such as one that occurred in Lynchburg, Virginia in April 2014, fire fighters and police have no clue what is in the tank cars on the train. They usually do not know until they are able to get close enough to see the placard posted on the tank cars.
By being trained to spot certain fittings and the construction of the cars, fire fighters can find out quickly the type of material that is being transported. All sorts of materials can be hauled in these tanker cars, from crude oil to corn syrup.
Tanker cars that contain many hazardous materials, including ethanol, chlorine and oil, often pass through the rail lines in the Chicago area. But the boom in oil production in the Bakken area of North Dakota means that more oil than ever is rolling through Chicago every month.
The firefighters and police have been glad to get this extra training. The more knowledge they have, the more chance that a disaster can be mitigated in a future train derailment.