Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Grand Forks, Devils Lake firefighters assist in derailment response

HEIMDAL, N.D.--Shortly after a BNSF oil tanker train derailed Wednesday morning, sending fire and thick black smoke into the air, regional emergency response teams from Grand Forks and Devils Lake sprang into action.

Volunteer firefighters maintain a vigil near the scene of Wednesday's oil train derailment just outside of Heimdal, N.D., late Wednesday afternoon. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

HEIMDAL, N.D.-Shortly after a BNSF oil tanker train derailed Wednesday morning, sending fire and thick black smoke into the air, regional emergency response teams from Grand Forks and Devils Lake sprang into action.

Nine emergency responders from Devils Lake Fire Department and three from Grand Forks Fire Department delivered equipment and technical assistance for local volunteer firefighters dealing with the potential catastrophe.

"We went over there to support the operation, to support local volunteer first responders," Devils Lake Fire Chief Jim Moe said. "As a hazmat team, we give guidance. They take it from there."

The two departments are part of a statewide regional response network that provides equipment and first responders with specialized training to deal hazardous material threats.

Grand Forks is one of four regional anchors, along with Fargo, Bismarck and Minot.


Devils Lake, Jamestown, Dickinson and Williston serve as sub-anchors.

"The premise is that every fire department in the state cannot afford hazmat training and equipment," said Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. "We leveraged federal grant dollars to purchase technical level hazmat equipment and located it in the anchor communities. Those technical-level fire departments all agreed to mobilize if needed in their region."

The anchors provide technical equipment and skills, such as monitoring air and water quality, while the sub-anchors serve as operational level hazmat teams.

"We dike and dam, to keep the event from getting larger," Moe said. "We worked hand in hand with Grand Forks."

The Devils Lake Fire Department has equipment designed to minimize the effects and the spread of hazardous spills.

"We didn't have to set up our decontamination equipment because our initial response was to help them get organized and get a command set up, to give them some structure," Moe said.

While some oil spilled, an emergency containment dike kept it from spreading to a nearby slough, which is located about 15 miles upstream from the James River.

BNSF Railway also provided a foam spray truck to help with the containment.


Three of the nine Devils Lake firefighters have completed a special crude by rail emergency response training course at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colo, Moe said. Another three will take the course this summer.

They're among 70 North Dakota first responders who have completed the course since the December 2013 oil tanker derailment at Casselton, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said.

Heitkamp talked by phone Wednesday with Wells County emergency officials.

"They were feeling as if it was a near-perfect response to the situation," she said. "The feeling is nobody got hurt, they got it contained and this is exactly the way it should go."

Heitkamp, who has sponsored a bill she refers to the RESPONSE Act, brought Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to Larimore in late March to meet with first responders in an effort to bolster volunteer recruitment and retention, access to training and federal grant programs for equipment purchases.

She plans to visit Heimdal Friday to meet with first responders who were on the scene,

as well as with officials from BNSF, the Federal Railroad Administration and with oil industry officials working in North Dakota.

"While it turned all well, what are the shortcomings," she said. "We want to know what can be done to make it better."

What To Read Next
Get Local