By Evan Marczynski / The Skagit Valley Herald
MOUNT VERNON — With the increase of crude oil shipped by rail through Skagit County and other areas of Western Washington, oil train safety is a hot topic among emergency managers and first responders in the area, particularly in the event that one of those trains should crash.
About 120 emergency responders, including firefighters, police officers and officials from local refineries and public works departments, attended a workshop on oil-train crash response on Saturday in Mount Vernon.
The training involved a classroom session covering how railway companies handle hazardous material and demonstrations of the components of tank cars using a special Burlington Northern training model placed on a train track near Riverside Drive.
“It’s really to familiarize local responders with the cars,” said Mark Watkinson, interim director of the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management. “We want them to know what parts and pieces are there and how they function.”
Organizers invited firefighters and others who work in disaster management from across the region. Fire officials say that if an oil train crashed, a response would likely need to come from a wide range of emergency teams.
“It’s important that we work regionally,” said Mount Vernon Fire Chief Roy Hari. “That’s why it’s great to have everyone in the same training together.”
Saturday’s training also included demonstrations of fire foam deployment and Skagit County’s mobile decontamination unit, which was set up by the Sedro-Woolley Fire Department.
Sedro-Woolley Fire Chief Dean Klinger said his department does training exercises with the decontamination unit about three times each year. But Saturday was the first time they have set it up next to a railway, he said.
Krista Salinas, administrative coordinator with Emergency Management, said it is important for local responders to receive as much knowledge as possible on the various elements of responding to an oil-train crash or other catastrophic incident.
“They’re going to be first on scene, so it’s really good to have the education,” she said.