The La Crosse Fire Department received a donation of a fuel tank car from BNSF Railway Thursday to use in training exercises to prepare for emergencies like a derailment.
The fire department has worked with BNSF Railway for years, traveling to their facilities and conducting exercises. Now, they can do it right on Isle la Plume and in turn, reach out to other community fire departments to help them train for rail emergencies.
The donated car is a Legacy DOT-111 that for more than 30 years carried fuel via railway. It was part of a surplus that BNSF did not need any longer. According to BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth, they make donations like this to many fire departments along their network.
"We believe it's very very important to be prepared in the unlikely event of an incident," said McBeth. "[The La Crosse Fire Department] already have a great training facility here where they conduct training all the time and this is just another piece of equipment that will help them in those efforts."
Dangerous derailments can cause major damage, potentially spill hazardous material and in some cases cause raging fires. BNSF facilitates training opportunities the La Crosse Fire Department would travel to, but now they can train in their own backyard.
"Our plan is to add propane to it so it's actually on fire to some degree," said Division Training Chief Frank Devine. "When the firefighters are applying their foam, they can actually see that they are having an effect on the fire itself and hopefully take away something more than just imagining it."
In turn, La Crosse plans on doing outreach to other fire departments to come train with this fuel tanker and be sure as many communities near railways as possible are properly prepared.
"We don't want to go someplace and have to wonder what their capabilities are," Chief Devine said. "This will give us the opportunity to know their capabilities before there's an incident."
Derailments are unlikely but not necessarily uncommon. Between 2001 and 2010 just under 55,000 derailments happened across the US, most of which were due to broken rails.
The DOT-111 model like the one donated is being phased out of railway use per a federal mandate set in the "Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act" passed by congress in 2016.