The sound of trains rumbling through the city at all hours has been a fact of life for Amsterdam residents for many years. But Fire Chief Michael Whitty said Wednesday that most people don’t realize just how much flammable oil passes through the city on those trains every day. Recent accidents involving tanker cars have raised awareness of the potential danger to small communities like Amsterdam. Fortunately, the Amsterdam Fire Department recently received a Class B foam apparatus trailer from the NY State Department of Homeland Security which will help the fire department to better handle a tanker fire, whether it happens in the city, or in the surrounding region.
“Basically the state came up with a foam task force initiative,” explained Whitty. “And all along this rail line, they’ve identified strategic locations where they want to place these trailers. So they approached us and asked us if we would house one. The nearest one west of us is in Utica, and the nearest one to the east is Albany. That would be our response area. If there was an incident, there would be more than one of these going.”
Whitty said that all the staff at AFD recently underwent training to use the new apparatus. He also said that there are additional foam tanker trucks, called “foam tenders,” stationed in Guilderland that could re-supply the apparatus during an incident if needed.
According to AFD officer Tim Miller, who is also the hazardous materials team leader for Montgomery County, there may be millions of gallons of crude oil passing through the city every day. Miller said that each tanker car holds approximately 30,000 gallons of oil, and an average 80,000 tanker cars pass through the city per year.
Miller said that the 660 gallon capacity of the trailer is enough to handle a fire from one tanker car or tractor trailer.
Whitty said that if the apparatus was used within the city, such as for a tractor trailer incident, the city would have to pay to replace the foam. However, if the department responded to the state for a regional incident along the railway, that the state would reimburse the city to replace the foam, as well as for additional staff time to cover for the responding officers.
In either case, Whitty said that usually the company who owns the tanker car or tractor trailer could be billed to cover the cost of handling the incident.
The danger posed by tanker cars passing through population centers along the railways has gained increasing attention lately. According to CNN, there have been 10 accidents involving trains carrying oil in US and Canada in the last two years. The highest profile case was in 2013 when 47 people were killed in Lac Megantic, Quebec when a tanker car caught fire and exploded in the center of the town.
Whitty called the NY State’s foam task force initiative “pro-active” and said, “It’s definitely an asset to our community, and our area, as well as for the state.”