NY county to use foam machine to extinguish oil fires

If rail cars carrying flammable material crash, "blanket" will douse the blaze


Times Union

SARATOGA COUNTY, N.Y. — As road crews on Monday prepared for this winter's first storm, Saratoga County officials announced they have obtained a new tool for combating another potential public safety threat: trains that transport oil.

The county is one of 19 municipalities in the state to receive emergency response trailers equipped with a foam substance that firefighters and hazardous materials teams will use to suppress fires caused by oil or other flammable liquids. The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services procured the trailers for communities located along major rail lines.

Amsterdam, Saratoga County, Albany and the state Stockpile in Guilderland are among the areas that will start deploying the trailers early next year.

Train cars carrying oil produced by fracking in Canada use Canadian Pacific rails in Saratoga Springs and other Saratoga County communities to move oil south to the Port of Albany. The county will base its foam trailer at a fire department in Malta and deploy it to rail emergencies, but also to vehicle accidents involving ignitable substances.

"It's not only the railway that concerns first responders in the field, but what's traveling on our roadways, because there's hazardous materials there, too," Saratoga County Office of Emergency ServicesDirector Carl Zeilman said. He will join other county leaders in revealing the 600-gallon foam trailer at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Fire Training Center at 6010 County Farm Road in Ballston Spa.

Homeland Security will maintain the trailers and train responders in how to use them. The foam concentrate requires a mix of water in order to be dispersed. When sprayed, it resembles bath soap that forms a blanket over fire. It represents the best technology for fighting crude oil fires, according to Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner John Melville.

Trains loaded with oil pass through the Saratoga Springs train station on a daily basis on its way to refineries on the East Coast. While they have moved through Saratoga Springs for decades, concerns about them have grown more acute in recent years due to high-profile accidents elsewhere and the volatile nature of some of the material being hauled, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen said. City firefighters and police coordinate with Canadian Pacific on safety, he said.

In August, a dozen Norfolk Southern rail cars carrying vegetable oil, railway track material and forest products jumped the tracks near the city line. No one was injured, but the accident served as a reminder of the possible dangers of rail travel. A few months later, hundreds of nurses, environmentalists and labor leaders rallied at the Saratoga Springs Amtrak station for greater safety precautions when transporting oil by rail.

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