Fire Marshal: W.Va. Firefighters Not Required to Train on Well Site Fires
News broke Tuesday of a gas well explosion and fire in Greene County, Pennsylvania, injuring one worker while a second is still missing.
The well was just miles from the West Virginia border, close to the first Senatorial District from which Senator Jack Yost hails, a district that’s full of well sites of its own.
In his Labor Committee a day later, Yost brought up the incident, saying this is exactly the type of event he wants to work to prevent in West Virginia, and he’s calling on State Fire Marshal Anthony Carrico to help.
“These operations are not necessarily the norm or the normal type of scenario that (firefighters) encounter on a day to day basis,” Carrico testified Wednesday.
While well site explosions are not that common, Carrico said they do happen in West Virginia. In 2013, five workers were killed on well sites and numerous emergency responders were injured.
But, more importantly, Carrico said, the state should focus on the lack of training firefighters and volunteers have when dealing with industrial settings.
“Just the amount of pressures and volume of gas in this case we’re talking, far exceed the capacity of most fire departments to handle on scene,” he said, “much less if they can even acquire a reliable water source.”
Yost said that’s why the legislature now needs to focus on training emergency personnel about the sites, something Carrico said at this point is not required by the Fire Marshal’s office.
But the type of training is up for debate.
Senator Doug Facemire, chairman of the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee, said emergency responders only need to be taught the basics, how to secure the scene and set up a parameter. From there, he says professionals should be taking over.
“When you go out on a well location, it should be handled by people who know what’s going on on that location, no disrespect to any of the volunteers,” he said.
“I think that fighting well fires should be left to the people that that’s what they do, fight well fires.”
In Pennsylvania Tuesday, state police set up a parameter and Wild Well Control, a national group of well fire experts, were called in to handle the scene.
But there are no expert groups located in West Virginia. Most are located in Texas or Oklahoma, meaning a long travel time.
Facemire, however, maintained they can be ready at a moments notice to respond anywhere in the country.
Yost felt there should be some basic education for emergency responders across the state for how to handle the situations, even if professional crews are being called to the scene.
Carrico said he has no purview over that requirement, meaning lawmakers would need to make some changes.
“It opened up more issues that we aren’t aware of. We thought maybe he had some regulations or guidelines to go by. We learned that there isn’t,” Yost said of Carrico’s position.
“So, after the water issues now we know there’s other areas that we need to concentrate on to make sure the safety aspects are involved there.”
Yost plans to study the issue with his committee during the next set of interim meetings.