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Crude oil safety forum to be held in Whitefish

By Paige Sedgewick, Reporter, psedgewick@kcfw.com
Published On: Jun 10 2014 06:21:28 PM MDT
Updated On: Jun 10 2014 11:21:24 PM MDT
KALISPELL, Mont. -

In January, 400,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in North Dakota when a Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway train crashed.

Tuesday night, the city of Whitefish is holding an open forum for folks to ask questions and learn about emergency plans that are in place in case of an oil train derailment.

Recent accidents have brought up some concern. BNSF trains pass through the depot in downtown Whitefish every day.

"It's also a concern of the fire department and the police departments that we have a potential risk that needs to be studied and mitigated as best we can," said Whitefish Fire Chief Tom Kennelly.

Kennelly explained that the citizens are concerned because of recent crude oil spills, but emergency responders are preparing themselves in case something happens.

BNSF Railway officials told NBC Montana that on average, for the last couple months, one and a half loaded trains of crude oil have been passing through Whitefish daily. Local emergency responders keep in close touch with BNSF.

"We also have an excellent relationship with the railroad and partnership with them at this time, as far as training goes," said Kennelly.  

Six Whitefish firefighters are attending a BNSF crude oil safety class in Pueblo, Colorado.  The fire chief plans to send six more personnel next year.

One concern with the fire department is that they only have four career people on duty daily.

"I believe we're the best prepared that we can at this time. Do we have enough resources? You never have enough resources for a major incident," said Kennelly.  

Community members expressed that this is a topic that needs to be discussed, but they think they are in good hands.

"Preparation needs to be done, because an accident will someday happen,” said Whitefish resident Chuck Paulus.

"There's an awareness that we have to have. Anything is possible, but I have great faith in our emergency reaction people," said Stumptown Historical Society Executive Director Jill Evans.

At Tuesday's meeting, the emergency crew will be addressing exactly how they will keep the people safe in case of an incident.

"Our main thrust will be evacuation and public safety initially, and the mitigation and cleaning up of an oil spill. Any fire involvement and stuff will probably take more time and our partners with the railroad and other organizations throughout the county,” said Kennelly.

The open forum is at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish at 7 p.m. tonight. It is open to the public.