Chief: Portland lacks tools vs. oil train fires

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Portland’s fire chief said her department doesn’t have the tools to put out the flames from a catastrophic oil train derailment like the one that killed 47 people in Canada and others in North Dakota and Alabama last year.

The derailments raised worries about extra-volatile crude oil from the Bakken formation in the Northern Plains and debate over the safety of rail tankers. There are concerns in Oregon because crude oil is passing in greater volume along rails within the state.

In a rail catastrophe in Portland, the city’s firefighters lack a supply of containers big enough to continuously apply the special type of foam required to put out a major oil-based fire, Fire Chief Erin Janssens told The Oregonian in a story published Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1heSnMi ).

Portland has a stock of 5-gallon drums of foam, she said, but it doesn’t have any of the 265-gallon totes needed to put out a fire like the ones in the three major accidents last year. She also said firefighters might not be able to get the caps off their foam buckets fast enough to apply the substance.

“To suppress the fire requires a lot of foam and an uninterrupted supply,” Janssens said. “We don’t have that today.”

She said the city would have to rely on the Portland airport, managed by the Port of Portland, which stores the bigger containers for possible airplane fires.

She was among those at a briefing Tuesday on risks of crude oil shipments. It was held at a Portland rail yard where oil trains pass.

The session brought together representatives of railroad companies and emergency officials. They inspected oil tank cars, met the state’s lone hazardous materials rail inspector and saw the equipment that would be used to contain spills.

The meeting was arranged by Gov. John Kitzhaber, who didn’t attend. He released a letter to Oregon’s congressional delegation that called for reforms at the federal level and pledged steps in Oregon to tighten oil train safety.

Kitzhaber said Oregon was exploring whether the state has adequate rail safety inspections and enough training for first responders.

The owners of the oil terminal in Clatskanie said Wednesday that they would begin using newer tanker cars to transport oil through Portland to the facility downriver. Kitzhaber applauded the action.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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