First responders train with tanker simulator

With many miles of railroad tracks and major connecting highways, Chautauqua County has various hazardous materials passing through on a daily basis. To prepare for any type of hazardous material disaster, firefighters from across the county participated in a recent training exercise.

Members of various fire departments including members of the Chautauqua County Hazmat Team participated in the three-day training to simulate a railroad car or tractor trailer on fire. Director of Chautauqua County Emergency Services Julius Leone said the county has been on a waiting list for nearly two years for the training through the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control. The tanker, which travels throughout the state as an educational tool, gives first responders training on how to tackle a crude oil or gasoline live burn.

“We have a lot of trucks going up and down the highway and a lot of crude oil on our railroad tracks. We need this training here,” said Leone. “This is a very controlled environment, so God forbid it ever happen, (responders) will have a basic knowledge of what to do.”

First responders worked in teams to rotate through the training. One team was battling a side fire with foam while the other teams doused flames from the tanker itself. Two teams were working on the flames; one team would cover the other team of firefighters as the group approached the flames. Firefighters worked together to create a barrier of water between themselves and the flames in order to reach a shut-off valve on the tanker. Each firefighter carried their own oxygen supply on his or her back for safety.

“It’s real popular, it’s been all over New York. It finally made it to Western New York,” Leone said adding the training has taken place in Cattaraugus, Erie and Allegany counties. “We’ve all got the same training which is really good.”

The county Hazmat team has partnerships with both Allegany and Cattaraugus counties, in addition to the Seneca Nation of Indians. Hazmat Coordinator Dan Imfeld said the training is great in order to be prepared in case of an emergency. He said a previous study found 177,000 railroad cars and 350,000 trucks pass through the county each year carrying hazardous materials. By doing training exercises, firefighters gain confidence and knowledge in case it is needed in the future.

“It’s just to get prepared for this kind of stuff. The goal is zero but we’ve got to be prepared for that one (accident),” Imfeld said.

Two of the fire departments that participated in the training were the Forestville Fire Department and Cassadaga Fire Department. Both fire departments have major highways passing through their fire districts which see heavy truck traffic. Route 60 is a major connector between Chautauqua County and Pennsylvania.

“We have a lot of trucks that come through because (Route 60) is the main route that goes from 90 to Warren,” Cassadaga Fire Chief Tim Cobb Jr., said.

Like Route 60 in Cassadaga, the Forestville district includes a major highway – Route 39. Capt. Joseph Kohler said the training was “awesome” and it was the first of its kind he has experienced. Forestville Fire Chief Kyle Barthel said he learned valuable information he did not know prior.

“It prepared us more for anything that could happen in our district. We do have a lot of fuel trucks that go through our district so if something were to happen, I would feel more comfortable about handling it,” Barthel said.

Chautauqua County is not immune to hazardous materials being spilled. In the 1990s there were two separate incidents.

A tractor trailer carrying gasoline collided with a school bus at the intersection of Route 60 and Lakeview Avenue. According to Leone, the tractor trailer was left to burn out and there were no serious injuries reported. Also, a railroad train derailed near the Chautauqua County Home in the town of Dunkirk spilling hazardous materials.

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