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How Prepared is Spokane for an Oil Train Derailment?

Elias Schewel via flickr
Quebec, Canada - Oil Train Derailment & Explosion

Local officials have concerns with the potential for an oil train derailment in the Spokane area and how well prepared we are to battle a potential fire from such an incident.

The Bakken crude oil that is shipped via rail from the North Dakota oil fields through Spokane to west coast refineries is not only more corrosive to the current model of tanker cars, but also much more volatile than other types of oil.

In 2013, a train carrying Bakken crude oil exploded in Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying 30 buildings in the downtown section of the community.

Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer says presently his department is not as prepared as he would like it to be if such an incident would happen in Spokane.  “We have daily staffing on our hazardous materials team of 11 people. We need 50 people." He added, "We have enough aqueous film-forming foam--the type of product for that type of a fire--for just an hour if we’re lucky.”

Schaeffer adds that there are questions about how to evacuate the downtown core in areas adjacent to Spokane’s rail lines.

“You’re looking at 20 to 30 thousand people that we would have to evacuate immediately. How would we realistically notify those people? It’s nice to say we would call them or go house to house, but when you look at downtown we have vertical challenges, trying to get to all those vertical floors, hospitals, that located directly to those railways.”

Schaeffer says federal officials have said they expect an average of seven derailments and fires per year nationwide from Bakken crude laden oil trains.   

The assistant fire chief made his comments at our recent Health and Safety Forum.  You can hear our health and safety forum Thursday, March 24th from 6:00-8:00pm on KPBX and from 11:00am-1:00pm on KSFC as well as other dates and times listed at the link above.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.