PICTURE ROCKS - The Pennyslvania Fire Academy has begun teaching first responders in the Marcellus Shale region how to deal with emergencies at gas well sites.
Because of Lycoming County's status as a leader in the state in gas industry safety initiatives, the academy's first class was held Tuesday in Picture Rocks.
"We're recognizing and honoring the forethought and progress of Lycoming County and the (county) Department of Public Safety," said Gary Fulton, an adjunct instructor with the academy. "The county has been procative for several years and has taken steps to make it safe to work here."
Gary Fulton, an adjunct professor with the Pennsylvania Fire Academy, Tuesday teaches emergency responders on how to respond to emergencies at gas drilling sites. The academy plans to offer 40 sessions throughout the state.
Fulton presented the four-hour "pilot" course to about 65 people who gathered at the borough Volunteer Fire Co. fire hall.
Fulton said the course was designed to teach firefighters, police, emergency medical services and other emergency response personnel what to expect when responding to an emergency at a gas well site.
Most incidences at well sites will be responded to by local police and fire agencies, he said.
"Some of it is business as usual - car, truck or trailer fires, accidents on the highway involving equipment, slips, trips and falls - general industrial and highway incidents that we're suited to deal with," Fulton said.
Local responders have neither the equipment nor the experience to deal with major catastrophes like a well blowout with a fire, he said. Those events, which will happen very rarely, should be left to experts, he said.
"One of the big purposes (for the course) is to show when to do something and when not to do something," he said. "It's hard to turn off emergency responders in response mode. Every one of them is there to assist their neighbors in an emergency siutation."
Those in attendance represented 20 fire companies from Lycoming and Sullivan counties and staff from Susquehanna Health and the county Department of Public Safety, said Craig Konkel, county Department of Public Safety operations and training supervisor.
Konkel, who also serves on the Lycoming County Community Gas Exporation Task Force safety subcommittee, said the course was developed following an exercise held last September at a gas well site near Salladasburg.
The exercise, held in partnership with gas exploration company Range Resources, presented several mock emergency scenarios that responders had to deal with. The excercise provided an assessment of "gaps" in their ability to respond to a gas drilling incident, Konkel said.
Armed with that knowledge, the county partnered with the academy and the safety committees of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association to develop a curriculum for the course, he said.
The joining of the industry and the academy proved to be a good match, Konkel said.
"The industry knows the information, but they're not set up to go out and teach," he said. "The academy had the teaching knowledge."
Konkel said many meetings and work sessions were held to develop the course.
"We have a final product and we're here tonight to offer it for the first time in the state," he said.
The two gas industry safety committees were indespensible in the process, Konkel said.
According to Fulton, the course will be presented throughout the state's Marcellus Shale region. The course will be taught in areas where the academy is invited to present it.
The coalition has contracted the academy to present 40 sessions between Oct.1 and June 30, and 20 of those sessions already have been scheduled, he said.