A train blew an engine while crossing the railroad trestle over Betty’s Branch near Riverside Park. The blown engine was leaking fuel into the waterway that leads to the Savannah River.
That was the scenario Friday when members of the Columbia County Hazardous Materials Response Team raced to the scene for a training exercise.
“There’s a lot of chemicals out there being shipped by road and by rail,” said Columbia County Fire Rescue Training Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann, who oversees the team. “A train can carry a multitude of different things. It could be a multitude of other chemicals.”
The exercise was designed to allow the team to practice using containment booms recently purchased with a $2,000 Local Emergency Planning Committee grant. The grant paid for 100 feet of reusable water surface containment booms that can be deployed from boats, docks, trailers or the shore to contain hazardous materials spills in waterways, according to county Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker.
The team began by using the booms to contain the fictitious spill until Hepaco, a local emergency response company and county partner that specializes in hazardous materials response and remediation.
The booms are new equipment for the team in addition to the absorbent booms currently in stock. Those booms absorb hazardous materials. Once weighed down with the absorbed material, Kuhlmann said, they tend to sink below the water surface and allow the materials to float past them.
The new containment booms float and extend about 8 inches below the surface to contain any hazardous materials on the surface or create channels to divert the materials to a catch basin for clean-up.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox to deal with any type of hazardous materials spill,” Kuhlmann said. “We thought this would be a good purchase because we do have so many waterways in the county and the surrounding areas. So these containment booms, we can deploy them and contain hazardous materials, fuel spills and stuff like that on the water surface.”
The booms worked well in training, Kuhlmann said. They worked so well that Kuhlmann said they are already considering adding money to buy more booms in the next budget.
“We’ve got 100 feet of them right now,” Kuhlmann said. “After this exercise, we see that we’re going to need a lot more, 200 or 300 more feet, to handle a large spill.”