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Hazardous materials response began in North Platte in 1995-1996 with an operations-level capability. In 2002, a memorandum of understanding was established with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to transition from an operations-level team to a technician-level team. NEMA provided funding for the North Platte team and it became part of a regional system of teams in the state. When a regional team is activated by NEMA, those personnel are paid by the state as well as back-fill personnel to cover those sent on the hazmat response.
North Platte’s hazardous materials unit and its equipment are housed at Station 3, which is located at 3501 W. 2nd on the west side of North Platte near Bailey. The hazmat team is not dedicated, so personnel at Station 3 will staff the hazmat unit when such a call comes in. Their response vehicle doubles as a heavy rescue apparatus. Additional equipment is carried in a 20-foot cargo trailer. Also housed at Station 3 are a quint, two medic units and a grass rig. Hazmat responds to all hazardous materials incidents in the city, including fuel spills. Mutual aid is available from other regional hazmat teams in the state. All career firefighters on the North Platte Fire Department have been trained to the technician level. Volunteers are trained to the operations level. Each career firefighter goes through an 80-hour technician course and additional training is taken at Anniston, AL, for weapons of mass destruction, at the Pueblo, CO, tank car school and at Las Vegas, NV, for radiation training.
Equipment carried on the North Platte Fire Department hazmat response unit is typical for most hazardous materials teams. Respiratory protection is provided by MSA with 60-minute bottles for hazmat operations and N95 particulate-filtering facepiece respirators. Level A entry suits are Dupont Tychem and Level B are also made by Dupont. In-suit communication is accomplished with Motorola Throat Mike 1250s.
North Platte is located on Interstate 80 and major highways U.S. 83 and U.S. 30. The Union Pacific has one main line and four additional lines that run through the heart of the city. Its team may also be dispatched to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad line outside its district through the regional response system.
While many of the goods transported through Bailey are non-hazardous commodities, a wide variety of hazardous materials are shipped through the yard on a regular basis. Bailey is the major fixed hazardous materials exposure with rail cars of hazardous materials passing through the yard and four million gallons of diesel fuel storage capacity. Each year, the railroad uses approximately 254 million gallons of diesel in the rail yard. Fixed foam fire protection has been provided by Union Pacific for the diesel fuel storage tanks. Other fixed hazardous materials exposure in North Platte include a Walmart distribution center, a tank farm with five pipelines two miles south of town, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at a truck stop, anhydrous ammonia, propane and agricultural chemicals.
The Union Pacific and the North Platte Fire Department work closely together to handle hazardous materials incidents as well as fire emergencies that may occur at Bailey. Union Pacific’s 2,700 personnel at Bailey have been trained to the hazmat awareness level. According to the North Platte Fire Department, Union Pacific has a great safety program for spill prevention. The fire department is responsible only for the stabilization of a hazmat incident in the rail yard. Pre-designated entry points have been identified at Bailey depending on the location of an incident for fire department and Union Pacific personnel. Kim Kelling, the hazardous materials manager for Union Pacific at Bailey, provides technical support, especially for tank car issues, as well as training for fire department personnel who respond to Bailey.