Train Derailments Involving Dangerous Goods

June 15, 2016

Train Derailments Involving Dangerous Goods: Enhancing Canada’s Ability to Respond

Although the weather was grey and wet, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the hundred or so firefighters and representatives from government, industry and rail gathered at the Justice Institute of British Columbia in Maple Ridge on March 12 and 13, 2016, to take part in Exercise Vulcan.

This train derailment exercise, led by Transport Canada (TC), was supported by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS), through the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), a federal program led by DRDC CSS, in partnership with Public Safety Canada.

“The events of July 6, 2013, at Lac-Mégantic (Québec) have opened a lot of people’s eyes,” said Denis Lauzon, Lac-Mégantic Fire Chief. “This exercise provided an opportunity to further our knowledge of flammable liquids, of the best response techniques, of how to work safely at a derailment site, and, more importantly, of how to work in a common command system so that all responders can speak the same language and understand each other.”

“What makes Exercise Vulcan so special,” added Louis Marcotte, TC’s Chief, Response Operations, “is that it provided a unique opportunity for first responders to work with specialists from the flammable-liquid shipping and rail industries to learn about supports available via the Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) program.”

Laying a Knowledge Foundation

The thee-part exercise—classroom, demonstrations and full-scale exercise—exposed first responders to the unique challenges that arise when train derailments spill flammable liquids and cause fires.

Saturday morning started with an in-class presentation on response efforts in Lac-Mégantic, followed by presentations on the federal and industry resources available to assist first responders during this type of incident.

Ibrahima Sow, Manager, Exercises and Programs, TC, said the department’s main role, in an emergency situation involving dangerous goods, is to bring together first responders, industry specialists and hazardous materials experts and provide scientific advice. “First responders can call our 24/7 emergency response centre, CANUTEC, for real-time help and information. We can also provide ground support through a remedial measures specialist dispatched to the scene.”  

“Through CANUTEC, we can also connect first responders with industry partners who are required to maintain an ERAP, which ensures measures are in place to respond quickly,” added Marcotte.

Additional presentations detailed how to conduct a comprehensive site assessment, including identifying railcars, consulting the train consist—the list of railcars containing dangerous goods—and doing scene size-up. They also described specialized industry response strategies and tactics.

From Classroom to Field

On Saturday afternoon, participants viewed three demonstration sites to start putting into context the knowledge they had learned earlier. First up, a simulated derailment where industry experts explained how to conduct a comprehensive site assessment.

“A railcar fire involving flammable liquids has unique properties and requires a tailored response,” said Lee Nelson, Senior Dangerous Goods Officer, CN Rail. “A thorough site assessment is essential so right decisions can be made about which response strategies to use and what additional resources may be needed. This is extremely important because using the wrong approach can actually make the situation worse and jeopardize the safety of the first responders and the public.”

The second demonstration replicated a railcar fire. “Responding to this type of incident is quite different from responding to a “regular” structural fire in a home or commercial property,” said Rick Ferguson, Land Transportation Response Supervisor, Shell. “It requires specialized strategies, tactics and equipment that first responders seldom learn about in regular training. These demonstrations aimed to create greater awareness of the extra support, resources and knowledge that industry response teams can bring to the site to support local responders.”

The third demonstration was a show-and-tell of industry resources, such as specialized equipment and expertise, which can be mobilized to support first responders.

Knowledge into Practice

Sunday brought even worse weather, but no less enthusiasm and participants took on a full-scale exercise. The first scenario simulated a train derailment and participants conducted a detailed site assessment.

“This scenario was scripted specifically to lead the firefighters to conclude that a non-intervention was the best initial response,” explained Marcotte, adding that they were also expected to contact TC’s CANUTEC, as well as their regional Emergency Operations Centre and the rail carrier, for guidance. “We wanted them to realize that sometimes it’s safer and more efficient to take a step back and assess the situation thoroughly before taking action.”

The second scenario featured a simulated railcar fire with participants responding under industry supervision.

“In this case, we wanted municipal players to understand the tactics that the Industry Responders (i.e. Railroad contractors or Shipper responders) would utilize to take offensive action on a flammable liquid railcar fire.” said Ferguson. “The intent was to show them the types of tactics and equipment Industry Responders have available to support a response for this type of fire. Specialized responders implement the offensive strategy, which on a tank car that is totally engulfed in fire, is very complex and requires specialized expertise and training.”

Following these two scenarios, participants completed a detailed survey on the presentations, demonstrations and full-scale exercise.

“Participant feedback is a key element of all CSSP-funded exercises,” said Tara Logue, Acting Exercise Program Manager, DRDC CSS. “Their comments and other observations will be used as part of the data collection process to evaluate the success of the exercise, highlight best practices, identify gaps and indicate where improvements need to be made. This type of knowledge helps us develop evidence-based advice and recommendations for policy- and decision-makers.”

“The feedback will support development of a future training curriculum for first responders across Canada,” concluded Marcotte. “We’re very thankful to DRDC CSS for supporting our efforts to access and develop this invaluable knowledge and expertise.”  

Visit the Exercise Vulcan web page for more information.

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