The Birmingham Fire Department now has a 660-gallon foam concentrate trailer to quickly extinguish liquid hazardous material fires.

The Birmingham Fire Department now has a 660-gallon foam concentrate trailer to quickly extinguish liquid hazardous material fires.

Photo provided by the city of Birmingham

Birmingham Fire Department addresses preparedness in case of train emergency

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 8, 2023

BIRMINGHAM — Since there may be a sense of concern among residents about how their local government has prepared for the possibility of a train derailment following a recent incident in East Palestine, Ohio, the Birmingham Fire Department has expressed confidence in their abilities to handle train emergencies.

A train derailment occurred in Birmingham several years ago, which has helped the city prepare for future incidents.

On Aug. 29, 1999, a Canadian National Railway Company freight train derailed in Birmingham carrying 97 cars, approximately 40 of which derailed.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, and no hazardous chemicals were released.

The cause of the derailment was chalked up to excessive speed and sudden breaking.

Since that derailment, the local emergency response training has improved, officials said.

Birmingham and OAKWAY, which now consists of 11 full-time fire departments in the region, are trained in the mitigation of hazardous situations, including train derailments.

“Accidents can happen, and an accident did happen,” Birmingham Fire Chief Paul Wells said. “A lot of people might not realize it because they weren’t here, maybe, at the time. It was managed very quickly. There were no long-lasting effects at all, and all that we have done is learn from that and think, ‘What would we do if this was worse and what can we always do better in an emergency situation?’”

Hazmat-trained personnel and equipment through OAKWAY have more than doubled since the train derailed in 1999. The department was able to enhance its capabilities as a hazmat team, especially after it received government funding following 9/11.

One piece of equipment that is especially beneficial to their emergency response is a 660-gallon foam concentrate trailer that can extinguish liquid hazardous material fires quickly. This is currently located at Birmingham Fire Station 1 and can quickly be deployed to a train or road tanker accident.

They have also added a second truck and an AreaRAE gas monitor to check air quality from a remote site.

“So much has changed since then and so much has changed because of the money we have gotten, from the threat of terrorism, to just advances in technology,” Wells said.

Another piece of information that Wells offers to give people more peace of mind is that Birmingham does not have any railroad crossings. All of the tracks are either elevated or go below the roadway in Birmingham.

Wells added that while they can not share specifics of the report, Birmingham does not have large quantities of highly flammable liquids traveling through it.

In addition to the safety measures taken locally, CN has contributed to safety efforts in several ways, including updating its braking system to an automatic braking system, officials said.

“Safety is a core value at CN,” Julien Bédard, CN’s media relations advisor, commented via email. “The Company is continuously working to reduce the potential for accidents on its network.”

According to Bédard, CN invested $55 million in 2022 and over $400 million in the past six years in Michigan to improve the safe movement of goods in Michigan and on CN’s transcontinental network.

“We have also invested in technology to improve the quality of our inspections such as the automated track inspection program, autonomous inspection portals and rail flaw detection capabilities.”