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Hazardous training held for responders

ALBANY -- Anhydrous Ammonia, when treated properly, helps make good fertilizer here in rural Georgia. Accidental leaks in transport of the material, however, can prove deadly.

A practical training course to handle hazardous chemical leaks brought first responders from the Albany Fire Department, Lee County Fire Department and other organizations from places such as Thomasville and Americus to the rail yards at West Washington Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Albany Tuesday and today.

Jim Vaught, Albany-Dougherty Emergency Management Agency deputy director, said he saw a scheduling opportunity. He invited the Potash Corporation through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to bring its equipment and expertise to train as many emergency responders as possible.

"There were 49 in the class today (Tuesday), and there will be just as many tomorrow," Vaught said. "There are responders from Atlanta and the Environmental Protection Agency coming tomorrow."

According to Virgil Fowler, manager for preparedness and response for the Potash Corporation, the training includes classroom and hands-on practical experience using a specifically designed rail car. The rail car travels the country with a variety of equipment built on to match the types of equipment on different brands of rail tankers.

"Last year, there were 1.7 million shipments of hazardous materials, not just ammonia, by rail," Fowler said. "Although we prepare for the worst, the record is very good. Ninety-nine point nine six percent of the shipments were safe."

After a four-hour class at an Albany Civic Center meeting room, the responders climbed more than 14 feet to the top of the railroad car to learn how to close various leaks.

"We have trains with hazardous materials going through our city, by about five or six schools and a nursing home," said Lee County Fire Department Chief and Emergency Management Director James Howell. "We prepare for what we hope will never happen, but it is better to be prepared."