Senate passes Heitkamp’s first responders training improvement bill

The US Senate approved legislation to improve emergency first responders’ capacity to act following accidents involving rail shipments of crude oil and other hazardous materials. S. 546, which US Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced in February 2015, was referred to the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for further action on May 10.

Heitkamp introduced her bill after a train carrying crude oil derailed in Casselton, ND, in late 2013, which was followed by several more crude-by-rail derailments across the country. US Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) introduced a similar bill in February 2015.

“First responders—the vast majority of whom are volunteers in North Dakota—selflessly put their lives on the line and run toward danger to protect our families,” Heitkamp said following the Senate’s approval of her bill. “To make sure they are protected and able to do their jobs to keep our communities strong and safe, it’s absolutely critical for the federal government to show emergency response teams the same support.”

The measure would amend the Homeland Security Act by directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs & Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) subcommittee of the National Advisory Council.

Heitkamp said that this public-private council would bring emergency responders, federal agencies, and leading experts together to review training and best practices for first responders. The council, which would be co-chaired by FEMA and the US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), would provide Congress with recommendations on how to address first responders’ safety needs amid increased railway safety challenges so they can best protect communities, the senator indicated.

Sens. Angus King (I-Me.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) cosponsored Heitkamp’s bill.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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