By Greg Noll, Emergency Response Training Consultant
Building relationships between emergency planners and first responders is critical in any community, and especially related to hazardous materials. This has been an integral part of my career as both a first responder and a hazardous materials emergency response instructor. With several millions of miles of pipelines across the United States, used to transport and deliver various energy products like refined petroleum products, natural gas liquids and crude oil, my instruction naturally includes response to potential pipeline incidents.
An important fact that is lost on many people, especially in this day and age, is just how safe pipelines are when compared to other modes of transportation used to deliver energy resources. The U.S. Department of Transportation continues to acknowledge pipelines as the safest mode of energy transportation, and each major pipeline, such as Mariner East 2, can take thousands of cargo tank trucks off the roads and tank cars off the railroads.
Pipeline operators work with first responders in the communities where they operate to organize trainings, tabletop exercises, facility tours and other events to prepare for the rare event of an incident. Energy Transfer and Sunoco Pipeline have always prioritized this and have thus built close relationships with first responders where they operate. I know this firsthand as I have been involved in this process since 2017.
The Mariner Emergency Responder Outreach (MERO) Program was developed in 2013 to provide emergency responder training on responding to NGL incidents along the Mariner East and West rights-of-way and in the communities surrounding the pipelines. Preparedness activities have included providing emergency responder training, hosting tours of facilities and assets, sending public information mailers, participating in other community events and sharing information about projects with those who are interested.
Based on my background as both a first responder and instructor in hazardous materials emergency response, Energy Transfer tapped me in 2017 to deliver the MERO Pipeline Emergencies training sessions in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. As of this date we have trained more than 2,540 first responders across the Mariners East and West. We are currently in the middle of another round of MERO trainings, and I am enjoying the opportunity to teach this valuable material to even more emergency responders.
First responders already have Awareness and Operations-level training in hazardous materials emergency response. The MERO training builds upon that base and complements their hazmat training by focusing upon pipeline issues and topics, such as the types of pipelines and their operations (e.g., gathering, distribution, transmission), their location within the community, the physical and chemical properties of the products being transported, and the application of a risk-based response process for managing various pipeline incident scenarios should an incident occur.
The MERO curriculum is based upon the Pipeline Emergencies (PE) textbook published by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM). As one of the co-authors of the PE textbook, the textbook has significant third-party review with over 30 technical reviewers representing both the fire service and the pipeline industry. As we say, it’s written by emergency responders, for emergency responders. Now in its third edition, we continue to update the textbook based on new and relevant information, as well as to refresh our pipeline safety trainings.
As a student of leadership, one of my favorite things to do at each session is to give a shout-out to the “most experienced” (oldest) first responder in the room and introduce them to the youngest and newest. Besides hopefully starting a mentorship between them, the session provides them with the technical information to “make a difference” should an incident occur.
In closing, I have an agenda in being part of the MERO Program – to keep emergency responders and their communities safe in the event of a pipeline incident. I am honored to play a role in the education of thousands of first responders, and therefore the safety in all of the communities they serve. I hope people keep in mind that pipelines are by far the safest way to transport energy, and incidents are very rare. Rest assured that your local emergency responders are educated and prepared to respond in such a case, and ready to protect and serve.
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Greg Noll has facilitated MERO trainings across his home state of Pennsylvania for the last four years. With nearly 50 years of experience as a first responder in the fire service, Noll has instructed responders worldwide and is a technical specialist in emergency response to hazardous materials incidents. He has authored numerous books and articles that are used by first responders, including the widely used textbooks Pipeline Emergencies (3rd edition) and Hazardous Materials: Managing the Incident (4th edition).
Noll currently serves as Senior Planning Specialist – Special Projects for the South-Central PA Regional Task Force. He is also a principal with GGN Technical Resources, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in emergency planning, response and incident management issues, and sits on numerous national-level boards and committees pertaining to hazardous materials emergency response. He is a retired member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve with more than 29 years of service, having served as a subject matter expert for various U.S. Department of Defense hazardous materials and counter-terrorism response training programs.
In 2011, Greg was honored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) as the recipient of the John M. Eversole Lifetime Achievement Award for his leadership and contributions to further enhance the hazardous materials emergency response profession. Noll was subsequently inducted into the National Fire Heritage Center’s Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders in April 2019.