ExxonMobil, Texas A&M offer hazardous liquids training for first responders

The third of three training courses funded by a $200,000 grant from the oil giant will be held in January


Mella McEwen
Midland Reporter-Telegram, Texas

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — With miles of pipelines underground and crude oil storage tanks dotting the Permian Basin landscape, knowing how to react in case of disaster is critical for area first responders.

That’s why ExxonMobil is teaming up with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to provide a hazardous liquids emergency response training course for firefighters. A $200,000 grant from the oil giant funded development of the course and participation of 150 firefighters at sessions in August and October. A third session is set for January 11-12, and 50 firefighters have already signed up to participate.

ExxonMobil partnered with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to provide hazardous liquids emergency response training courses in August and October. The third course will be held January 11-12. (Photo/Nueces County ESD #4 / Bluntzer Fire Facebook)
ExxonMobil partnered with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to provide hazardous liquids emergency response training courses in August and October. The third course will be held January 11-12. (Photo/Nueces County ESD #4 / Bluntzer Fire Facebook)

Nicolas Medina, public and government affairs manager for ExxonMobil Pipeline, is hoping to see firefighters from West Texas participate in the January session or additional sessions in 2020.

Events such as pipeline ruptures or storage tank explosions are rare, “but in the event they occur, preparedness is important,” he said in a phone interview.

The company’s support of the course is part of its commitment to the communities where it operates, he said. In addition to the $200,000 grant that funded the development of the program, ExxonMobil will make another $200,000 grant for the program next year.

Municipal and volunteer firefighters “do an awesome job at what they do, they are well-trained for what they do, which is primarily house fires, car fires, rescues like that,” said John Burge, director of the industrial firefighting program at TEEX. But training for large plant fires such as at Port Neches recently, or tank battery fires or pipeline fires costs more than their budgets allow he said.

The funding from ExxonMobil will allow municipal and volunteer firefighters to receive that training, he said.

“They pay for everything – hotel rooms, meals, the training, the fuel used in the training, that’s very expensive, the foam used in the training, that’s very expensive,” Burge said in a phone interview.

It is a win-win situation, he said. Not only do the communities where companies such as ExxonMobil, Dow and Lyondell Basell have plants, but pipelines and tank batteries have improved protection from better-trained firefighters but those companies have additional support in case of fires or explosions.

Those plants typically have brigades trained to combat the fires, he said, but those numbers are limited. That’s why it’s important to have backup from the municipal and volunteer firefighters.

“Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re fighting fires, you’re breathing air, you get worn out. It’s important to have people that can rotate in and out,” Burge said.

The training is done at the 300-acre Brayton Fire Training Field. Burge said when the class arrives for a training session, “it’s like Disneyland. We have live fires and different scenarios. The fires are bigger than what they’ve ever seen.”

He cited the experience of the Hull-Daisetta Fire Department in Daisetta, which participated in the first session in August. Fighting tank battery fires was one of the scenarios. Two days after that session, Fire Chief Memo Gomez said they were called to a tank battery fire and knew how to respond.

The training targets volunteer first responders because, as Medina explained, volunteers comprise 85 percent of the state’s fire departments. “They’re our first line of defense,” he said.

ExxonMobil’s emergency response experts worked with TEEX to develop the pipeline and tank training curriculum. The training sessions are held at TEEX’s Brayton Fire Training Field within the emergency preparedness campus at Bryan-College Station.

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©2019 the Midland Reporter-Telegram (Midland, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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