An oil spill in Scituate Harbor, or along the Scituate coast, could cause immeasurable damage to the environment for years to come, and have a detrimental impact on marine, land and human life.
Members of the Scituate Fire Department, in conjunction with the Cohasset Fire Department, Scituate and Cohasset Harbormaster Departments, and the United States Coast Guard Sector Boston and Station Scituate, took part in a training drill to simulate an oil spill in Scituate Harbor.
The drill took place just hours before the June 4 boat fire in the harbor that sent a dozen people to the hospital.
Hosted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the training allows local fire departments, with the help of the harbormaster’s crew, to effectively respond to any type of hazmat – hazardous materials – situation, particularly along the coastline and in the harbor.
It is offered to local agencies every three to four years, according to Scituate Fire Chief John Murphy.
“This is the third drill of this type in Scituate,” he said. “It’s always constructive to train with different agencies in town and out. We all become more familiar with the hazmat equipment and each agency’s capabilities, especially making sure our communications are coordinated and effective.”
The goal is to redirect the fuel away from sensitive marshland and estuaries and direct it towards a less sensitive area where crews can utilize a vacuum truck to remove the spilled fuel.
In such an event, first responders used multiple oil booms in a tiered format to redirect the fuel – simulated by mulch for the training – away from the mooring area and direct it into the fish pier area for extraction, Murphy explained.
“The fire department, along with the harbormaster crew, will coordinate a response depending on the type of spill we are presented with.”
Scituate moors over 1,500 boats between the harbor and the rivers. Most run on fuel, aside from some of the smaller sail boats.
“Any of these could produce a hazmat situation,” Murphy said. “There are also 6 million gallons of fuel transported along our shoreline daily by barges and merchant ships between Boston, New York, and New Jersey.”
All of Scituate Fire Department personnel have a hazmat endorsement at the operations level when they graduate the Massachusetts Fire Academy, Murphy said.
“We utilize our dive team members as a special response team due to their boating skills, knowledge of the effects of wind and current, and their local knowledge of our harbor and coastline.”
The weather, especially wind, would pose the greatest challenge in a real life event.
“The wind would make this type of recovery more difficult,” Murphy said.
According to Murphy, a commercial fishing vessel sank at the Town Pier several years ago.
“This equipment was used to minimize the fuel spread in the harbor,” he said. “The recent boat fire was close to creating a hazmat situation. When you are putting tons of water on a boat fire it will eventually sink if not extinguished in time. We directed our response units to tow the boat to the Jericho ramp before this could happen, and likely have a sunken boat leaking 70 gallons of fuel over time.”
In response to the June 4 boat fire, booms were also secured around the marina to contain any contaminants from the fueling facility.
“This equipment and training is critical to our successful mitigation of a fuel spill in our coastal waters,” Murphy said. “The funding for this equipment and training comes from a tax per-barrel of fuel that comes into the port of Boston. This was initiated after a large oil spill from a grounded barge in Buzzards Bay, just southwest of the Cape Cod Canal.”
This spill sent 98,000 gallons of fuel into the area in April of 2003 causing an estimated $40 million in coastal damages.
“This new funding and training program was initiated a year later.”
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