Fire Fighting, Fire Management, and Emergency Management: A Guest Post From Balloon Juice’s Very Own Lurking Fire Chief.

Balloon Juice has its very own lurker fire chief. And he has done a guest post for us on fire fighting and emergency management. Specifically in regard to oil train fires. His post below is adapted from a paper he is presenting this week at a professional conference and he should be around in the comments to answer any on topic questions you might have. Without further ado, I give you Fire Chief Jim Appleton.

I was the fire chief in the 2016 oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, Oregon.

I’ve been a Balloon Juice lurker and sparse commenter for over fifteen years, whenever The Poorman sent a bunch of us here to laugh at John.  FSM, I miss The Poorman.  And Ken.

I’ll be speaking in Chicago on Thursday and Friday later this week on a couple of panels about oil trains.  Links below.  Any big-shouldered BJers interested are encouraged to attend and/or spread the word.  Please meet and greet!  My schedule is not conducive for a separate meet up.

The panel organizer invited me based on a couple of my public statements during the emergency.  My position then and now has been a call for banning oil trains, from the perspective of an emergency manager.

But my understanding of the issues has evolved considerably.

Like many, when I first saw what I was dealing with that hot Friday afternoon, I knew the monster as a “bomb train.”

Having been through the response and a lot of training and contacts, I now say that calling them bomb trains is an effective rallying cry, but it’s wrong for technical reasons and problematic because the term is dangerously and erroneously alarming, and because it misses the real threats, which are toxic release and fire.  The concentration of risk in trains consisting entirely of oil is what makes them so insanely dangerous.

The activists who speak about “blast zones” and explosions are scaring a lot of people who need to know that those potential hazards are not likely to kill them.  And that the real threats are potentially more insidious and more common than most people know.

They justify that focus by pointing to one source — the federally approved hazardous materials response guide which all agencies are required to use.

That guide groups oil fires with other flammable liquids into a one-size-fits-all set of steps to ensure public safety during the first thirty minutes of any incident involving those materials.

The guideline sets a half-mile evacuation distance.  Again, assuming a worst case for a whole class of hazards.  Based on that, a common misconception of a half-mile “blast zone” has become a defining characteristic of oil train activism.

But, as we learned in Mosier, oil trains seldom explode.  When they do, it’s from a high-energy accident in which huge amounts of oil are released.

And even then, oil tanker explosions are not as violent as portrayed.

There is no supersonic shock wave, just a lot of heat and a spectacular mushroom cloud of burning vapor.  The image is terrifying.  And oil tanker explosions have killed people.  But only from heat, not from violent detonation.

In Mosier, we knew in the first hour that there was no risk of explosion.  There just wasn’t enough heat to cause them.

That’s far more typical of oil train accidents.  The exceptions are few and well known — Lac Megantic, Casselton.

Reliable statistics on oil train accidents are hard to come by.

Suffice it to say, there are a lot more than you probably think.  They are not widely known because they tend to be in the middle of nowhere and consequences are seldom newsworthy.

Mosier was exceptional only because it happened in a populated area close to a major media market.

Sooner or later, there will be another oil train accident which will top the news cycle because it harms critical infrastructure, a metropolitan center, or an irreplaceable natural resource.

It’s a matter of time.

And the damage done will not be from violent explosions.

It will be from toxic liquid oil, or fire.

The Mosier incident was a fairy tale as oil train accidents go.  The amount of oil released, less than 50,000 gallons, is near the low end of the scale.  No one was hurt.  Even during the cleanup with all kinds of hazards and heavy equipment, not one person even requested a bandaid.  And there was no property damage, other than in the railroad right of way, and relatively minimal damage to the municipal wastewater treatment plant, which was quickly repaired at the railroad’s expense.

If the next one happens, say, on the Burlington Northern line along the Flathead River by Glacier National Park, crews could take days just to reach the site because of terrain and lack of roads.  During that time, pristine river and wilderness would be left alone with whatever the accident spawns.

Same goes for one which burns up part of downtown Spokane or Seattle.

Call them “very incredibly toxic napalm trains,” I’m OK.

Finally, the regulatory logjam and Trumpist dick-swinging which has actually rolled back oil train safety measures as well as obstructing cheap, common sense enhancements is one of, sadly, many priorities which are likely to be secondary to more important changes requiring expensive political effort in coming years.  And that assumes Trump goes, one way or another.



Foreign Affairs Guest Post: “Houston, We Have A Problem… “

Thanks, as always, to Schroedinger’s Cat:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a rally scheduled in Houston this Sunday. WalMart is one of the sponsors and the President of the United States has promised to attend along with an estimated 50,000 attendees.

What bright future are we talking about? The Indian economy is in the doldrums, minority populations live in fear, rapists are not arrested if they belong to the ruling party while activists fighting for the rights of the dispossessed languish in jail without a trial. As for dreams, the dream of a Hindutva dominated India where minorities are persecuted and dissenting voices are silenced, sounds more like a nightmare. Where the truth is sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and history is rewritten to service the ideology of hate.

Why is Modi doing this? My guess is for the publicity and for the $$. It’s also a reward for those among the diaspora who opened their wallets for Modi’s reelection. This rally would give the Prime Minister a much needed PR boost internationally after the draconian anti-democratic steps being taken in Kashmir since August 4th. It will show his fans and supporters back home in India that India has the world’s respect. Getting the US president who routinely demonizes immigrants, to a rally attended mostly by immigrants is definitely a PR coup for team Modi.

I was actually surprised that the White House accepted the invitation. Indian Americans have voted heavily for Democratic candidates in the recent past, see the figure below. Some have suggested that the crowd size may have been the irresistible attraction. Besides the fact that the Hindu right has deep pockets.

In addition to the President, 60 other elected leaders of both parties have promised to attend according to the organizers. Here is the list of those whose names appear in the news dispatch.

Raja Krishnamoorthi
John Cornyn
Ted Cruz
Al Green
Pete Olson
Sheila Jackson Lee
Sylvia Garcia, Greg Abbot
Cindy Hyde-Smith
Ami Bera
Brian Babin
Brad Sherman,
Eliot Engel

Firstpost is reporting that Steny Hoyer is also going to attend.

Check if your representative or senator is on the list and going to share a podium with a man who presided over a pogrom targeting Muslims in 2002 as the chief executive of Gujarat and is pursuing a nakedly majoritarian agenda in his second term as the prime minister. Actions in Kashmir being the case in point, where people have been without internet or cell phone access and access to medical care since August 4th.

Check out the BBC for news updates on Kashmir.

Watch this space for more updates on this developing story of the Houston rally. If you have questions leave them in the comments.

Guest Post: “Orange Fever” in India

Thank you, Schroedinger’s Cat:

I am afraid that the scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is just the beginning, it has little to do with the development of Kashmir. Prime Minister Modi’s agenda for India in his second term is to change India’s constitution and pave the way for a majoritarian state which is a democracy in name alone. 94 years after its formation the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is the closest to achieving its goal of the Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).

The international media is missing the RSS agenda behind Modi’s actions. Before he entered politics, Modi was a pracharak or a fulltime evangelist for the RSS. Just like the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee before him. There is no daylight between what the Sangh wants and what the BJP wants.

BJP is the political front of the Sangh, an all male grassroots fraternal organization that has had only one non-brahmin sarsangchalak (chief of the Sangh) in its almost hundred years of existence. According to some estimates, a group that makes up around 5% of the population of India. Also with two exceptions spanning 16 years, all the other sarsangchalaks have been Marathi brahmins. The Sangh still does not admit women. For a group that purports to speak for all Hindus its leadership is drawn from a tiny slice of Hindu male brahmins.

India is as complex as Europe would be if it were one country. India is home to two major language families and twenty two official languages. India also has the second largest population of Muslims in the world. The Sangh sees this diversity be it religious or linguistic as inherently problematic. Their dream India, which they call Bharat, is united under the saffron banner of Hindutva speaking as one in one language, Hindi. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are considered Hindu for the purposes of this classification but Christians and Muslims are not. Sangh ideologues have argued that diversity made India weaker and an easy prey for the British in the 18th and the 19th centuries and the first wave of Muslim invaders from Central Asia a thousand years ago and later. The way for India to go back to its former greatness is to unite under a banner of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).

Britain has been forgiven but BJP and its sympathizers want Muslim citizens of India to pay for the sins of the central Asian invaders and also for the formation of Pakistan. Their claims about a Hindu rashtra are inspired more by the nationalistic fervor sweeping Europe in the early twentieth century than they are by ancient India. Here is what Madhav Golwalkar, the most influential sarsangchalak who held the post for 43 years had to say about Hitler’s Germany in a book published in the 1940s.

…To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.

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Thanks, once more, to commentor Tony Jay:

Rum doings on this side of the Atlantic, as the race to succeed Theresa May (the only time you’ll see those three words strung together in any sentence format) as supreme leader of the Conservative Party and (possibly, probably, maybe not, we’ll see how things shake out) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, descended into ugly levels of sleezy farce. Last week the final round of votes by Conservative Members of Parliament saw unpalatable class-war stereotype Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson sail into the final heat with almost three times as many votes as his nearest rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy ‘The Big C’ Hunt, much to the chagrin of Johnson’s erstwhile friend and humanoid mole-creature Michael Gove, who had been two votes ahead of Hunt in the previous round and already prepping the release of numerous ‘anonymous’ leaks from his period working with Johnson on the (Lying Like Bastards for) Leave side of the 2016 referendum campaign to discombobulate the owl-faced Heir Presumptive when news of his third place finish (and automatic expulsion from the leadership race) came splatting down like a hammer made of bad faith and broken dreams. Suspicions abounded that Johnson supporters had been sneakily organised to artificially boost Hunt’s tally and ensure that Gove paid the price for back-stabbing Eton’s Shame on the eve of the last leadership election three years ago, but the scandal didn’t gain much traction because, well, what’s wrong with a bit of tactical voting? These are Tory MPs we’re talking about, it’s hardly the worst thing any of them have ever done, it’s probably not even the worst thing most of them did that day.

Speaking of which….

In the early hours of Friday morning neighbours of Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, a former Head of Press for the Tory Party with whom he’s basically been living since leaving his wife and family (feel the quality of those ‘values’) were taking delivery of a fast-food order when they were disturbed by a veritable humdinger of a row taking place in Symonds’ flat, during which there was slamming and banging and things being broken, along with the sound of Symonds screaming at her other half to “Get off me!” and “Get out of my flat”, apparently furious with the infamously slobbish Johnson for spilling red wine on her couch and generally being a spoilt bastard who didn’t give a toss about domestic hygiene. Now, anyone worried that poor old Johnson might have inadvertently kowtowed to the feminazi agenda at this point will be happy to know that he gave as good as he got, demanding that Symonds calm down and leave his fucking laptop alone. (PronHub alert!!!) Upon hearing a loud scream and after going down on three separate occasions to knock on the door (no response) the neighbours called the police, who sent around a couple of vans full of armed bastards, but were soon heading back to the station after being assured that all was well and nobody was actually being choked or strangled or beaten to death with a bottle of Penfolds Grange, because, you know, posh Tories, white privilege and forelock tugging go together like cheese and toast in our neck of the woods.

This is where it gets all conspiratorial and familiar. The neighbour who called through the initial complaint had recorded some of the racket and contacted the Guardian to let them know that Boris had questions to answer. Attempts by the Guardian to confirm events with the Police ran into a bit of an Establishment roadblock, though, as the boys and girls in Blue denied any knowledge of the row, despite the Guardian having the address, time, incident reference and Police officer ID numbers. No, Sir. Nothing to report, Sir. Which is kind of against all of the rules laid down for handling Press enquiries. It wasn’t until they provided the licence plates and vehicle numbers of the vans involved and, I don’t know, the star sign and maiden name of whoever was handling dispatch duty that morning, that suddenly the dam broke and confirmation was received. How massively not suspicious in the least, eh?
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Guest Post: “Slinker, Trailer, Snorter, Failure, Rich Man/Poor Man, MI6? Meep!”

Many thanks to BJ Approved Foreign Correspondent Tony Jay:

BJ International Presents: The Brexit Follies
An Alan Smithee Production

I think it was the late, great Glenn Medeiros who said, in reference to his third manager and fifth confirmed victim (WWE wrestler and pianoforte aficionado Danny “Hot Grease” Famagusta) “He couldn’t sing and he couldn’t dance, but if you didn’t want him applying a Figure-Four leg-lock and rabbit-punching your liver into patè, lying about it was always the smart move”. Wise words, Glenn, wise words. I’m sure that if he were here with us today and even passingly interested in the slow, grinding travesty that is this season of ‘Britain’s Got No Political Talent Whatsoever’, there’s no doubt that Mister Medeiros would look at the remaining Tory Leadership candidates and see the very clear analogy I’m drawing. Then he’d nod and he’d walk away, slowly, along the beach, sand between his toes, hair glistening, quietly satisfied.

Yes, it’s week two of the Contest of Charlatans and this evening the four remaining losers, plus Boris Johnson’s knuckle-cracking spokespeople, will once again ask the Parliamentary Party to throw their support behind their clear-sighted and not-at-all-ludicrous candidacies for the job of fucking up Brexit and everything associated with it in order to drag the corpse of the Tory Party a little bit further towards an inevitable General Election. Delusional optimism and naked ambition aside…. well, there’s not much left to cover, but we’ll try and drag this out for a few more pages so I don’t have to do any – actual – work before going home.
When we left them last week, the candidates had just emerged from the first round of Conservative MP’s votes and the ones who had cracked the magical 16+1 qualification score were:

Boris Johnson -114
Jeremy Hunt – 43
Michael Gove – 37
Dominic Raab – 27
Sajid Javid – 23
Matt Hancock – 20
Rory Stewart – 19

Andrea “Gaffetacular” Leadsom, Mark “Who? Why? Who again?” Harper and Esther “Black-Sheep of House Bolton” McVey were all dumped out for lack of popularity (look at my oh so very shocked face why don’t you), with Health Secretary and Yoof Outreach maestro Matt “Door” Hancock dropping out under his own steam a day later citing the need for a leader who could unite the Tory Party around the issues that Hancock felt were most important. Considering that Hancock had based his campaign on avoiding the self-inflicted mutilation of a No-Deal Brexit you would, of course, expect that he’d throw his support behind Stewart, or maybe to be more practical, Gove or Javid, but you would, of course, be quite wrong. Hancock immediately declared himself loyal to Boris the Brexiteer, proof, if needed, that the only thing more duplicitous and self-serving than a ‘One Nation Tory’ is a ‘One Nation Tory’ in a hurry to nail down his Cabinet job before the real fighting starts. Hancock’s 20 supporters were now up for grabs, and since very few of them would be expected to back one of the Brexit Uber Alles crowd they could provide a less overtly extremist candidate with some of the 33 votes needed to get through the next round of voting.
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