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BNSF donates rail cars to Fire and Rescue

| December 15, 2010 7:03 AM

From Kootenai County Fire and Rescue

Burlington Northern – Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) is providing two railcars, ties and tracks, along with the costs of decontaminating the cars and transporting them to Kootenai County Fire & Rescue’s new training site next to their administration building at 5271 E. Seltice Way in Post Falls, Idaho.  The purpose of the donation is to promote public safety by means of providing local and regional railcar training opportunities.

 The estimated donation value, including materials, personnel, and transportation costs is well in excess of $50,000 according to Kent Bealer, the local Train Master and Hazardous Materials Specialist for Hauser Lake and Spokane area.  A conductor and train crew will be transporting the two cars from Spokane to Post Falls on Sunday, December 19th with the relocation from rails to our training site taking approximately three hours, beginning at 7:00 a.m.

From a location at Cedar Street and Seltice Way in Post Falls, the company Hulcher from Pasco, Washington, which, among other areas, specializes in railcar incidents including hazardous material spills, train derailments and transportation, will transport the cars. Two specially equipped D-9 Caterpillar tractors will lift each railcar, weighing between 30 and 36 tons, off the tracks and roll the short distance down west-bound Seltice Way to the prepared pad at the KCFR District’s training site where they will be set permanently.

 According to Kent Bealer, each car transport from the track to the site will take approximately one and a half hours, with the west-bound lane of Seltice Way being temporarily blocked to traffic for thirty minutes or so for each car.  Alternate routes for west bound travelers include: remain on I-90 West to Highway 41 Exit or if driving west on Seltice, take Huetter Road south to Maplewood and travel west to Ross Point Rd., and then back to Seltice.

 History: Over two years ago KCFR Engineer Adam Knight, after speaking with several other Region 1 Hazmat team members, felt that emergency responders in this area needed some means to become more familiar and aware of incidents involving the railroads.  He contacted Kent Bealer at BNSF to present the idea of a hands-on training prop involving actual railcars and found Kent to not only be supportive, but very willing to get the ball rolling and provided Adam with names and contacts of those that could help make it happen. Including Kent, the Assistant Director of Hazardous Materials Patrick Brady, and General Manager of Northwestern Division for BNSF Doug Jones, have gone above and beyond to make this vision turn from dream to reality.

 BNSF had a pressure car which was damaged in a derailment in Houston, TX.  It was determined that the cost to repair was higher than the depreciated value of the car so BNSF cleaned it and donated it to KCFR.  A general service car owned by Shell Chemical in Houston, TX was donated as well when it had surpassed its 30 year life. Although these cars have high value as scrap metal, in the “tens of thousands of dollars” according to Kent, both companies chose to donate them for use in our training site.  These were then thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated by BNSF to be safely used for training purposes.

Two years later and countless hours of planning, preparation, and collaboration between our agencies, two railcars will be placed on a prepared pad with ties and rails at KCFR’s training grounds.

 “BNSF’s efforts at promoting public safety through this donation correlates with KCFR’s training efforts” stated KCFR’s training officer – Greg Wetzel, “If we are trained as 1st responders to understand and safely mitigate a railcar hazardous situation, then emergency personnel, BNSF employees, and area residents will benefit”.

 Benefits: Open to all emergency responders in the region, the benefits of a railcar training facility within Kootenai County is immeasurable.  Typically, emergency responders wanting hands-on training in actual railcar scenarios would need to travel to the “Security and Emergency Response Training Center” in Pueblo, Colorado.  This railcar training prop will allow much of the training to occur locally at a much lower cost and at a higher frequency. The railcar training prop will be located next to a soon-to-be-completed fire training tower for even broader training opportunities.

 Some of the areas that can now be taught locally with the addition of this equipment include; drills for spills from over-pressurization and ruptures, providing care for a patient injured on or around a railcar, how to best address an extrication in a motor vehicle/train collision, understanding the mechanism and operation of a container railcar for increased safety of responders and possible early mitigation of a hazardous situation.

If the public has questions regarding this information, they can contact Chief Ron Sampert or Greg Wetzel of Kootenai County Fire and Rescue at (208) 676-8739 or BNSF Regional Director of Public Affairs Gus Melonas at (206) 625-6220.

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