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By ANNA TULTZ
An accident 15 years ago directly led to the formation of a program in Ohio to train first responders in how to handle oil and gas emergencies.
Lightning hit a tank battery, a group of storage tanks to store oil. Emergency responders arrived and tried to control the leak with water. Instead of controlling the leak, the efforts resulted in water spilling over the dike and oil ending up in a small nearby stream.
“With proper training, that would never have happened,” said Rhonda Reda, executive director of Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.
Reda said the responders were doing what their previous training had taught them. Those methods, however, won’t work in some oil and gas emergencies. To prevent something like this from ever happening again, she went to Ohio’s oil and gas producers and asked for help.
“I went and said, ‘Look, we want to create an education training program, and we want you to support and fund it.’”
And that is just what the oil industry did.
More than 600 producers from Ohio voluntarily fund OOGEEP. The industry pays 5 cents per gross barrel of crude oil and 1 cent per gross Mcf (1,000 cubic feet) of natural gas.
To date, the industry has given more than $2 million to the program so responders can receive training they need at no cost. At the same time, the responders can earn up to 12 continuing-education units.
“We’re pretty blessed and fortunate to have such a local program with an excellent regional training facility and great props,” said Mark Del Protost, Wooster Township’s fire chief.
The nonprofit organization’s two-day training program has been endorsed by the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association, Ohio Society of Fire Service Instructors and the Ohio Fire and Emergency Services Foundation. The training curriculum meets both state and national fire standards.
Participants learn how to respond to drilling and production site emergencies, evaluate the emergency, and learn about other response resources over a course of two days.
“You get hands-on experience with what you’ll be dealing with when going out on a call,” said Dallas Terrell, a paramedic for the Wooster Township Fire Department. “The props at the training facility are lit on fire, and we practice how we would control the situation just exactly as we would in the field.”
The training focus is not limited to what could happen in the gas and oil fields.
“It’s about training for nonemergencies as much as it is about training for emergencies,” Reda said.
Training classes are offered four times a year. In April, the 1,000th firefighter will have gone through the program.
“When I look back 15 years ago, it was like a piece of paper of ‘Where do we start,’” Reda said.
Now OOGEEP is serving as a model for other states that want to create similar programs. Pennsylvania is eight months from starting its training program.
“We know OOGEEP does a fabulous job of educating,” said Doris Silvis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Alliance Petroleum Corp.
However, the program doesn’t stop at educating emergency responders. The efforts reach further into the communities as well.
“We give out 35 $1,000 scholarships to college students through donations and the oil industry,” said Frank Gonzales, secretary and treasurer of GonzOil and chairman of OOGEEP’s scholarship committee.
In 2012, OOGEEP received the Oil Field Patriot Award, one of seven recipients of the award.
“It’s one of the highest honors you can get,” said Reda.
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