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5,000 first responders trained for oil train derailment

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Oil train
A train carrying oil cars moves through the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard in Minneapolis.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2014 file

More than 5,000 first responders across the state have been trained in how to respond to the derailment of a train carrying crude oil. 

The trainings started two years ago in response to concerns that more crude oil was being shipped on rail from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana. 

Derailed trains carrying crude oil in the region have led to evacuations and some fires, including an explosion involving an oil train outside Casselton, N.D., in 2013. 

Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill into law in 2014 requiring the Department of Public Safety to train first responders along corridors where the crude oil is transported. The trainings are paid for by about $1.25 million a year in assessments on rail companies, according to Kevin Reed, deputy director of state Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  

Since the training program launched two years ago, 5,700 firefighters, police officers and medical professionals have received the training. That includes members of more than 188 fire departments across the state, Reed said. 

"They've been trained on floods, they've been trained on fires, they've been training on other things that would cause evacuation," Reed said. "We're trying to enhance the things they already know and add a couple threats they haven't realized yet." 

St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said about 120 members of his department have received the training. 

"It's considerably raised our awareness of this potential hazard within our city, and helps us plan what to do with it in case of an accident involving an oil train or a pipeline," Zaccard said. 

Although the number of trains carrying crude oil varies according to oil prices and demand, officials say between 15 and 25 trains carrying crude oil currently pass through the state each week. Those trains that are reported to the state typically include at least 33 cars, which can carry about a million gallons of crude oil.