Asheville’s firefighters got an up-close look last week at the inner workings of vehicles that transport potentially hazardous chemicals along highways and rail lines. Over three days, the Asheville Fire Department learned the ins and outs of tanker trucks and tractor trailers that transport anhydrous ammonia, a chemical that is used in agriculture, wastewater treatment, and refrigeration, but that can be dangerous in the case of a wreck or equipment failure.
“Firefighters don’t just respond to fires,” said Asheville Fire Department Emergency Management Specialist Abby Moore. “They need to be aware of all kinds of dangers and how to deal with them. There is no such thing as too much training.”
The training was hosted by Grammer Industries, a lead transport company of anhydrous ammonia, and the Potash Corporation, which manufactures the chemical. Both companies are active in training first responders on how to address the chemical and the machinery used to transport it, providing a demonstration rail car and tractor trailer with cut aways that show how the safety mechanisms work.
The companies are participating in a federal program that takes them through the eastern part of North Carolina, but Moore was able to secure a visit to Asheville utilizing Homeland Security grant funding.
The three days of training and instruction provided a learning opportunity not only the department’s HAZMAT team, but for the department as a whole.
“This really is a benefit to the department, to learn how to respond in a safe way,” Moore said.
Moore said the training could not have happened without the cooperation of Norfolk Southern, who allowed the department to use its rail yard on Meadow Road. “They deserve a lot of thanks for this,” Moore said.
To best be able to respond to emergencies, the Asheville Fire Department participates in regular training in a variety of different scenarios. Last May, the department’s HAZMANT team hosted a regional training drill at the Norfolk Southern site. And in November, the department trained on high-ropes skills thanks to the use of a construction crane on the Mission Hospital campus.