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Crews plan for pipeline disaster

Keystone operator teams with firefighters, feds for training event

News editor

About 50 county emergency responders, government officials, and pipeline operators met Thursday at Marion Community Center to learn how to respond to pipeline breaks.

It was the second of 10 regional forums to be conducted by Keystone pipeline operator TransCanada, and senior community relations adviser Rob Latimer was pleased with the turnout.

“I’ve been to Marion probably three or four times in the past,” he said. “We did some outreach a couple of years ago in Lincolnville where we did a similar type of program with emergency responders. We had a turnout of maybe 20 or 25. Tonight was a real success.”

In addition to TransCanada, seven operators of gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines in Marion County were available to answer questions about their operations.

The training was an outgrowth of collaboration between TransCanada and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“We all holed up at the TransCanada offices one day and came up with this approach,” IAFC national program specialist James Rist said.

TransCanada formed the partnership with IAFC because emergency responders are “a key audience,” Latimer said. Information presented has been tailored to their needs.

“We’re not trying to create a university program here,” he said. “We’re trying to find that sweet spot of practical, relevant information for local officials that they can use if ever needed in an emergency.”

While the training provided information on signs of possible leaks, how to work with pipeline operators for actual leaks, and event management strategies, responders also heard from someone who dealt with a recent pipeline oil spill.

Former Faulkner County, Arkansas administrator Allen Dodson had been on the job for two weeks in 2013 when an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, spilling crude oil that flowed through a residential neighborhood toward a lake.

“There aren’t many plane crashes, there aren’t many pipeline ruptures,” Dodson said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for them. The reason I’m here, not being an industry expert, is to drive home the importance of planning for even those low frequency events.”

Rist, a former volunteer firefighter, said responders should “think regional” when planning for or responding to pipeline incidents.

“You have to think out of the box. We’re not in this alone,” Rist said. “When I talk about a large-scale incident, you may very well call the next department for an engine.”

While Rist agreed volunteer responders could have more challenges developing plans than full-time emergency personnel, he said planning is still essential.

“You’ve just got to break it down and take it piece-by-piece,” he said. “It’s a meal, it’s one bit, one forkful at a time.”

Last modified Aug. 6, 2015

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