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Survey Finds Oregon Fire Departments Not Equipped For Oil Train Accident


Oil trains in industrial Northwest Portland.

Oil trains in industrial Northwest Portland.

Tony Schick, OPB/EarthFix

A survey by the Oregon State Fire Marshal found 81 percent of the state’s fire departments don’t have the equipment they need to respond to an oil train accident.

In a report to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office, the fire marshal tallied up $2.7 million in “start-up” costs for the additional equipment, personnel and training needed for the state to prepare for a crude oil incident.

The governor’s office says it’s unclear where that money would come from, but the governor is working with lawmakers to bridge the gap.

“Rail safety is a priority for the governor,” said Kitzhaber spokesman Chris Pain. “It’s very important to him to address these gaps and to figure out how to get the additional resources to support our already well-trained hazmat teams and other first responders across the state.”

Explosive oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada over the past couple years have raised safety concerns as more and more crude oil travels by rail through the Northwest.

In response, Kitzhaber is studying what his state needs to handle an oil train emergency.

safety gap assessment report ordered by the governor last year concluded the state needs more rail safety inspectors and training for emergency responders. It also concluded that the Oregon State Fire Marshal should find out whether fire departments are equipped to respond to a derailment if it happens here.

After a survey of 127 fire chiefs, the fire marshal has concluded that most are not; 81 percent said their departments don’t have the equipment needed to respond to a crude oil incident.

Around 50 fire departments said they’re lacking firefighting foam and oil-absorbing boom. Dozens of departments also reported lacking personal protective equipment, air monitors and foam applicators. Of those surveyed, 80 fire departments reported their jurisdictions have railways carrying crude oil or other hazardous materials.

“The overriding takeaway is a majority of fire agencies with crude oil trains traveling through their jurisdictions indicate they do not have enough equipment to respond to a crude oil incident,” the fire marshal’s report concludes.

The report recommends adding six trailers equipped with firefighting foam and protective gear at strategic locations throughout the state to make up for the shortfall.

That won’t get every fire agency the materials they would need to respond to an oil train accident, the report says, but it would spread essential equipment across the state so it will be accessible in case of an emergency. The report also notes that in addition to the $2.7 million in start-up costs, there will be ongoing maintenance costs in future years.


Scappoose Fire Chief Mike Greisen, whose agency sees about a dozen oil trains pass through its jurisdiction every month on their way to an oil terminal near Clatskanie, said his department can’t afford the firefighting foam and special training it needs to be ready in case one of those trains derails. He’s applied for a $20,000 grant to pay for his firefighters to take a training class.

“We can’t afford to practice because foam is $32 a gallon and you can go through five gallons a minute,” he said.

He said the state should step in to help local fire departments get the equipment they need.

“They really need to sit down and figure out where some funding is going to come from,” he said.

Fire Chief Tim Moor at Redmond Fire and Rescue said he thinks the railroads should bear the primary responsibility for responding to an oil train incident because the state won’t be able to afford all the equipment needed.

“They need to be accountable when they’re transporting it,” he said. “Should there be a derailment or accident, it’s probably going to come down to the private sector and then state agencies doing the best they can with the equipment we have.”

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