One of the most impressive hazardous-materials transportation accident training courses I have attended was conducted by the Association of American Railroads (AAR), a not-for-profit organization, at the 52-square-mile U.S. Department of Transportation`s Transportation Technology Center (TTC) in Pueblo, Colorado. The facility offers five courses.

The key features of the training program at Pueblo are the use of dozens of actual railroad tank cars and highway cargo tanks and the concentration of more than 50 percent of the training on actual hands-on practice. Another major factor is the intermix of students–chemical shippers, firefighters, and railroad emergency responders. The students work together to solve real vehicle scenarios, and they learn each other`s roles during actual emergencies.

The stunningly realistic training site includes three full-scale derailment areas, where actual tank and other railcars are positioned as they would be found in a violent derailment. The remoteness of the 150-acre simulated site allows for the use of fires, explosions, and vapor clouds to replicate as closely as possible actual accident conditions. More than 60 rail and highway vehicles with dozens of leaks and real-world problems force the students to employ the same techniques, equipment, pumps, and product-transfer tools used during true emergencies.

Haz-mat Training Senior Manager Jeffery C. Davis explains, “We`re several years ahead of the textbooks due to our instructors` actual accident experiences. The people best qualified to teach are those who have done it themselves … they`ve all come to us from the field. Our instructors are passing along the `folk wisdom` in the business because we routinely continue to send them out to major derailments.”


Training is designed to teach Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 29 CFR 1910.120 and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 472 competencies for emergency responders. The current courses are

Hazardous-Materials Technician (10 days),

Railroad Emergency Operations (five days),

Tank Car Specialist (five days),

Highway Emergency Response Specialist (five days), and

Haz-Mat Incident Commanders (five days).

In addition, customized courses are taught for major corporations and public safety agency response personnel and their students, including the Santa Fe Railroad; BASF Corporation; the Union Pacific Railroad; (Miles) Bayer; the Department of Energy; CONRAIL; Rhone-Poulenc Ag Co.; the Burlington Northern Railroad; Shell Oil Company; Exxon Co., USA; Retler; Union Carbide Corporation; the Chemical Manufacturers Association; and the Clorox Company.

Davis notes: “We try to limit our classes to 30. We like to think we get the people who are serious about their training. We just added $400,000 in new classrooms and are constructing a fourth derailment site. The different groups of students from the public and private sectors get a chance to work together. They learn each other`s point of view and get a chance to develop a trust relationship. The response in the student course critiques has been overwhelmingly positive. The philosophy is important–people learn best by doing.”

The guiding course philosophy is “skill-based training,” to ensure students can effectively do critical emergency response jobs. This type of training has been shown to be almost twice as effective as traditional content-based training.

Among the tasks students must perform/ master are the following:

selecting and using proper protective clothing;

containing spills;


implementing and working within incident command systems;

using monitoring equipment;

plugging and patching small containers;

drilling an overturned MC-306 cargo tank;

transferring liquids from one cargo tank to another;

overpacking leaking drums;

performing exercises in Level A and Level B equipment;

repairing common tank car leaks;

performing valve repair in protective clothing;

flaring propane from a damaged tank car;

assessing derailment scene sites; and

participating in day and night “real-time,” full-scale response exercises.

“A lot of people are taken aback by how serious we are about the training,” Davis says. “By the time they leave, they`re tired but glad they came. They just didn`t expect this level of effort.”

The training offers also an unprecedented guarantee: If you are not satisfied with the training you receive at TTC, your tuition will be refunded. n

(Top) The high-desert AAR training site has three full-scale derailment training areas that provide the means to create fires and explosions for various scenarios to which students must respond. (Bottom) Students practice stopping leaks, transferring product, and solving problems on dozens of actual highway cargo tanks and railroad tank cars on-site. (Photos by author.)

(Top left) Students examine, disassemble, and repair leaks in valves, dome covers, and fittings actually used on rail and highway tanks that haul hazardous materials. (Top right) Instructors have actual emergency response experience in all tasks students perform. Here, instructors keep a watchful eye as students practice replacing various fitting components just as they would in an actual incident. (Bottom right) Suiting up in personal protective equipment and SCBA is routine for the dozens of real-world, hands-on exercises conducted at the AAR facility.

n STEPHEN L. HERMANN is a hazardous-materials coordinator for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Arizona`s senior state on-scene hazardous-materials coordinator, and the former national chairman of U.S. DOT`S COHMED.

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