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Emergency responders begin to coordinate resources with the gas and oil industry

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. When firefighters were combating the Gray Barn wildfire in the Rulison area earlier this summer, some giant EnCana water trucks also came to the rescue.”I mean, they’re just huge, and they’ve got a water cannon on the top that they can shoot 60 or 70 feet,” said Jim Sears, emergency operations commander for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.Sears said the trucks proved to be of help. It was one of several instances in which companies involved with the county’s booming natural gas industry have responded to wildfires. But Sears says sometimes that response, while well-intentioned, actually causes problems.It can be hard for emergency responders when equipment shows up that they weren’t expecting, and they have to figure out how and where to deploy it. Questions also can arise about the equipment operators’ level of safety training, and whether they will be billing for their services.Now emergency responders and the energy industry are hoping to be able to plan a more coordinated response to incidents such as wildfires. They also are looking at ways to better deal with emergencies that arise related to energy development.This week, representatives of several energy companies met in Carbondale with more than a dozen governmental agencies involved with emergency response in northwest Colorado and beyond.They talked about the kinds of hazards and risks likely to be faced in the gas fields, and how to reduce the danger for those who respond. They also are interested in more sharing of resources and joint training.”They can teach us what hazards are involved with the oil and gas industry, and we can teach their employees what hazards there are with wildfires,” Sears said.The group plans to continue meeting, to consider things such as better deployment of existing equipment like bulldozers and water trucks, and acquisition of additional equipment that could be used by energy industry contractors and emergency responders.Their efforts will build upon the work that already has occurred between the Rifle Fire Protection District and the energy industry to create emergency response protocols within the district.The more regional discussions are occurring after EnCana safety advisor Jake Jacobs approached public safety responders about how they could work together better.”Our cooperation with them is extremely important. We need to provide them with information,” Jacobs said.Sears said emergency responders need to know what dangers they face in responding to incidents at well pads.He said this week’s discussion also focused on questions of security of gas production facilities and protecting them against vandalism and terrorism, and on hazardous spill response, workplace violence, and emergency response to accidents in remote areas. He said it’s possible that energy companies should hire someone to be stationed in remote areas to be the first responder to emergencies.Sears said energy companies realize they impact emergency responders, but responders also realize that the industry can help out in situations such as wildfires, through proper planning.Normally, he said, energy-related companies haven’t billed for their help on wildfires. Jacobs said his sense is that most energy companies instead are interested in how they can help the community in such instances.Williams Production, Xcel Energy, Shell and Marathon participated in this week’s meeting along with EnCana.”I’m really appreciative of our peers’ involvement,” Jacobs said. “I have reason to believe that that’s only going to grow and improve. Our philosophies are all the same, public safety. We’re all in general agreement on how we achieve that.”Energy companies also help local public safety agencies in other ways. EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said the company gave $50,000 to the Rifle Fire Protection District for a mobile hazardous materials response unit, and donated $100,000 to the county’s emergency responders for communication equipment.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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