Firefighters in Albany drill for oil train disaster

Daily Freeman | May 7, 2014 | Column by Kyle Hughes

ALBANY >> Just yards away from a playground and public housing project, state officials held a training exercise Wednesday to demonstrate that local firefighters are ready to respond in case of a major rail disaster involving crude oil tanker cars.

A State Fire instructor watches as firefighters spray fire suppressant foam to douse flames on a tanker truck in a simulated oil-spill fire during a drill on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo invited reporters to the “crude oil training drill” near the Port of Albany, a major transshipment point for crude oil headed to out-of-state refineries. But the drill did not involve the port, the rail yard, tanker cars or crude oil. 

Instead, officials said the event was a routine training course for first responders to practice their skills. 

“Certainly the visibility focus on crude oil has increased concerns ... but are we going out of our way or changing things or doing things dramatically specific to that? No, because we’ve been doing this right along,” said James Cable, chief of special operations for the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control. 

He said petroleum fires or spills are not uncommon, whether on roads or the rail system. “These things happen routinely and it’s our job to prepare responders for them,” he said. 

Wednesday’s training took place behind a waste transfer station in Albany’s poor South End neighborhood, and focused on having firefighters practice approaching and retreating while in formation to spray foam from a hose on a gas fire apparatus that was set ablaze. 

Asked if crude oil shipments like those going through the Port of Albany are any more dangerous than other shipments, Cable said “every risk is relative, but certainly all those traditional hazardous materials that have been transported by road and rail have been out there and continue to be out there, so crude oil is just another one of those risks.” 

Oil has been shipped through the Port of Albany and up and down the Hudson River for decades, but the shipments have accelerated in recent years thanks to an oil boom in the Bakken formation in Montana, North Dakota, and neighboring Canadian provinces. 

Two oil terminals at the Port of Albany have permits to ship as much as 2.8 billion gallons of oil annually from the rail system to oil tanker ships and barges on the river. 

Environmentalists want to stop the shipments, which they decry as a “virtual pipeline” that endangers communities along the rail lines and the river.

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.