Firefighters train in pipeline safety

The chemical industry is the driving force of Louisiana's economy but when disaster strikes it can be devastating, even deadly.

Louisiana firefighters have become the first in the nation to be specially trained to respond to those emergencies.

It's the kind of emergency that puts plant workers and people who live nearby on edge. Less than a week ago one woman said an explosion at a pipeline southeast of Franklinton knocked her off her sofa. Residents in 55 households were forced to evacuate. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said in those situations first responders have to act fast.

"If you have time to think. If you have time to second guess then lives can be lost and property could be damaged," Browning said.

Thousands of miles worth of pipeline run beneath Louisiana's surface. Browning said nearly 2,000 firefighters in Louisiana have been trained to respond to leaks and other hazards involving pipelines and chemical plants.

They were part of a pilot program offered through the National Association of State Fire Marshals and Shell Pipeline Company. It's an online course where a pipeline operators give first responders a better understanding of what they do and the best ways to respond in emergencies.

"It used to be we operate within our departments and when big things happen we lacked coordination. Incident command system does four fundamental things. It does a command. It does an operation, logistics and support."

Browning said the new training program puts all emergency personnel on the same page and makes responding to these type of disasters almost second nature, which can mean the difference between life and death.

"The specialty training they receive in hazardous material response is essential."

Browning said the pipeline safety class also helps increase the state's fire rating.

Texas is the only other state with the certification.