During the simulated hazardous materials training, the three agencies walk through procedures and protocols for a possible ethanol leak — a real possibility now that millions of gallons of the fuel travel through the county each month.
“It’s always critical to train on hazmat because a lot of you never know what you are going to get. We always go into an unknown environment,” Cartersville Fire Department Capt. Johnny Frasier said. “As far as the ethanol, of course, we just got a new ethanol plant that’s opened up in Cartersville. They have two big tanks out there. They are 3.6 million gallon tanks each.”
Thursday’s drill was just another effort by Bartow County Fire Department to focus on special operations and strengthen the partnership with CSX.
“This month Bartow County Fire Department is focusing on special operations training. Earlier this week, the wildland team had a small drill at the Pine Log hiking trail up there. ... Our technical rescue team did a confined space rescue class earlier this month, and now the hazmat team is out doing a hazmat drill,” BCFD Division Chief for Training and Special Operations Dwayne Jamison said. “We partnered with CSX, and we were lucky enough that they have this rail yard here in Cartersville. They’ve got a lot of open track space.”
Frasier echoed the importance of improving training with the railroad.
“The main thing, working with CSX, is knowing our contacts and getting face to face with the guys and knowing who we are going to be dealing with, just getting a good relationship with them. ... Right now we do have a good relationship with them,” he said. “You may remember, a couple of years ago we had the battery fire on Porter Street. CSX had tank cars parked nearby there and we had to get in touch with them quick then to get the cars moved. That was a smooth operation.”
While rail is one of the safest methods of transportation, the possibility is always there.
“CSX is extremely safe; they have a lot of safeguards in place,” Jamison said. “... As we’ve seen all across the country, it does happen. It’s happened here in Bartow County. The more cargo that they carry through here the more liklihood of an accident or incident happening.”
CSX Manager of Training for Public Safety, Health and Environment and Hazardous Material Field Manager Shawn Reedy said the company was not blind to the chance of an accident occurring on its lines.
“We are not going to bury our heads in the sand and say it’s not going to happen,” he said. “There’s all kinds of figures and statistics and things like that out there. Hazmat on rail, just general hazmat not just ethanol in particular but all hazmat — you’ve got to think, we move anything from ethanol to molten sulfur to chlorine. The big players and the small players are all moved out there. As far as the statistics go, probably the most commonly quoted one is we have a success rate and accident free rate of a 99.997 percent. ... But for that .003 percent that is out there, we want to be prepared for it.”
Reedy, who is based in Atlanta, covers the state. CSX employs eight hazmat officers for 23 states and two Canadian provinces.
“What would happen [in the case of an incident] is essentially the primary witnesses ... they call our 800-number, which is essentially our main dispatching number. ... The information is gathered from that operator there. They will dispatch the local responders such as Bartow County or Cartersville or both, whoever it needs to be,” Reedy said. “They’ll also contact me, and then I will, in turn, have them contact an emergency response contractor that we train specifically for hazardous material incidents on the railway.”
Through a program CSX operates called hazmat sentinel, the company trains roughly 50 personnel — 25 firefighters and 25 CSX managers per session — at a location in Pueblo, Colo. Bartow County trained two hazmat team captains in the program earlier this year.
In the event of an emergency, Reedy said those sentinels also would be deployed.
“... They come out and get this tank car specialist training, this hazmat training, so they are more knowledgeable of a situation like this. They may be right here. ... We’ve got about 300 of those across our system,” he said.
Training such as the sentinel program and Thursday’s small-scale operation is critical preparation for what Frasier called a “low-frequency, high-risk operation.”
“In the event of a real situation, the more prepared not only the municipal fire departments and municipal services are but as well as us, as far as CSX is concerned, the better,” Reedy said. “Our whole purpose here is really an outreach. We want to train with, alongside the fire departments ... in the communities we operate our trains through.”