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Jul 25, 2014 5:19 PM by Kari Beal

Crude Reality part 2: Emergency responders preparing for the worst

Flammable crude oil traveling by rail is getting the attention of emergency responders all over the country.

As we reported last night, several disasters last year caused the federal government to place stricter regulations on crude oil shipped by rail. This oil travels thousands of miles to refineries here in Louisiana. According to one government report, the concern is that this oil is more flammable and ships in outdated train cars.

Despite that, state officials and train companies aren't saying whether it passes through Acadiana. Emergency responders in Iberia Parish said they've seen crude oil trains traveling through neighborhoods, businesses and even past the courthouse in the parish.

That makes it difficult for emergency responders to prepare, so responders are preparing for the worst, said Prescott Marshall the Homeland Security Director in Iberia Parish.

He said they have dealt with emergency situations before, like the Multi-Chem plant explosion in 2011.

"It's the responsibility of the Iberia Parish Government, Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office and the Iberia Parish Fire District or the City of New Iberia Fire Department, if it's in city limits," Marshall said.

Officials knew what chemicals were stored at multi-chem plant, but now they're preparing for another potential threat -- train derailments that could carry anything, including more combustible crude oil.

"It has a lot more flammable compounds and it puts more flammable gases than normal crude oil so you have greater fire risk," Marshall said

Marshall admits they have no idea how much or when crude oil passes through Iberia parish by rail.

"Which is why we thought we are just going to react to any train the same way anyway," Marshall said.

One of the first responses is to determine what is inside the train cars. Marshall said responders always talk with the train engineer, but before they even get that far there's another way. Once they arrive on scene they can look it up through a phone app called ERG 2012.

For a crude oil explosion emergency responder said they will use a certain type of foam. Rather than working like water, which can actually make oil fires worse, the foam smothers the flames.

"It's hydrocarbons and what it does is it sits in and breaks up the levels. It takes the vapor off the liquid and it stops it from burning," Iberia Parish Fire Chief Guy Bonin said.

Bonin said state police are also notified if there is any sort of rail explosion or derailment. Once state police arrive they take over command and secure the area.

The location of emergency response office in Iberia Parish is another concern that has come up. It is located in the basement of the New Iberia courthouse, which is just steps away from the train tracks. Marshall said they hope to move their location before the end of the year.

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