Denver Fire Department unveils $150K HAZMAT training tool

The gray behemoth rested atop a bright red semi trailer, four different types of valves protruding from the top, as Denver firefighters and city officials stood nearby, looking proudly at the department’s most recent high-dollar purchase.

Think of it almost as a railroad car, said Mike Pylar, captain of the Denver Fire Department’s hazardous materials team. The difference is, this one can be moved by semi and is used to mimic virtually any setup a rail car carrying potentially deadly chemicals might have.

Pylar and others reviewed the department’s $150,000 training tool Friday at the city’s fire station at 9150 E. 50th Ave. — a purchase that’s the culmination of a years-long conversation about how to be prepared for an accident — or worse — on Denver’s rails.

Trains move deadly chemicals like chlorine and ammonia through Denver’s residential and pedestrian-heavy neighborhoods daily, Pylar said. While crews already train to handle and mitigate accidents or potential attacks on those rail cars, they haven’t been able to train on anything so realistic. At least not locally, he said.

“We can take this anywhere and everywhere,” Pylar said.

At-large City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega was among those who began raising concerns years ago about the risks of rail cars passing through Denver’s neighborhoods.

The biggest concern is human error, Pylar said, although cities must also be prepared for the possibility of terrorist attacks. A chlorine spill, or an attack on a car carrying ammonia, would be deadly, he said.

Through a grant from the Urban Area Security Initiative, the city was able to buy the “rail car trainer,” which Ortega, Pylar and others received with open arms Friday.

The trainer is already in use for training exercises, Pylar said. Other fire districts can borrow the rail car and train their crews, he said. This is important because any extreme hazardous material spill in the area will almost certainly require a regional response rather than a local one.

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