The RESPONSE Act will provide additional training for first responders, specifically for handling freight train derailments that include hazardous materials such as crude oil.
The legislation establishes a public-private council of emergency responders, federal agencies and industry stakeholders tasked with reviewing current training methods and prescribing best practices for first responders to Congress. The council will be co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has introduced a companion bill to the RESPONSE Act in the House of Representatives.
Heitkamp noted a 2013 crude oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D., which was followed by several derailments throughout the country including a second in North Dakota, as the impetus for introducing the RESPONSE Act in the Senate. The senator said her bill aims to “make sure first responders have the tools and resources they need when responding to hazmat incidents on the rails to keep North Dakota’s communities strong and safe.”
“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," said Heitkamp. "That's exactly what happened in Casselton one December afternoon in 2013, when responders ran toward the black smoke of a train derailment that could be seen for miles — and it's what our country has continued to see following oil train derailments throughout the country.
“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,” she added. “By unanimously passing my bipartisan legislation creating a public-private council to help Congress address the needs of first responders, the U.S. Senate stood in solidarity with our communities near railroads, and the first responders who keep them safe.”