In a collaborative effort to protect the Kootenai River in the event of a potential hazmat spill, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, BNSF contractors Whitewater Rescue Institute and Kennedy-Jenks partnered with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho to provide critical training to Boundary County first responders on Saturday.
First responders from the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office, Boundary County Emergency Management, Boundary Search & Dive Rescue Team, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho Police Department, North Bench Fire District, South Boundary Fire Protection District, Boundary Ambulance, and Idaho Department of Environmental Quality gathered at the Twin Rivers resort for the all-day training session.
The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s Twin Rivers Sturgeon and Burbot Hatchery is situated on 10 acres at the confluence of the Kootenai and the Moyie rivers. The 35,000-square foot hatchery which opened in October 2014 is the only facility in the world that successfully propagates and rears both burbot and white sturgeon.
The Kootenai is critical to the survival of both endangered species and the hatchery is dependent on the fresh water flowing to the facility through the intake system which is situated in the river.
Because BNSF has an active railroad track along the banks of the river, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Public Affairs Director Courtney Wallace said BNSF recognizes the importance of protecting the area, therefore the parties involved agreed that it would be an ideal location to train first responders on the use of booms, ice booming, and ice rescue techniques in the event of a hazmat release into the Kootenai River.
“We recognize that the Kootenai River is a critical area that needs to be protected,” Wallace said. “We are sensitive to crucial waterways and the environmental impact of any spills.”
Wallace said Burlington Northern takes the transfer of oil and all hazardous materials very seriously when transporting it from point A to point B. BNSF is focused on prevention, prepared for quick response and dedicated to remediation.
First responders learned how to assemble and deploy the BNSF booms using whitewater boats and the BoomVane boom deployment apparatus, which is designed for deploying boom during a hazmat spill response situation, how to saw channels through ice to facilitate diversion or collection of floating hazmat contaminants from frozen waterways, how to self-rescue in the event that they fall through ice, as well as how to rescue others that have fallen through.
“We do training on all types of water, in rain, during summer, during ice storms and severe winter weather, because a spill can occur in any type of weather condition,” Wallace said. “The training is invaluable to first responders.”
Wallace said BNSF owns and maintains the equipment, but makes BNSF emergency response equipment available to Boundary County first responders for any hazmat incident, even if the railroad isn’t actually involved in the hazmat release, such as a fisherman’s boat catches fire on the river, or a semi truck wrecks on the highway.
Saturday’s ice conditions on the Kootenai River were about six inches thick, providing a safe training environment for participants who were properly geared with saw safety gear, harnesses, dry suits, flotation and swiftwater helmets.