The simulated ammonia tank car leak training exercise took place on Thursday morning in Harrisburg. (Photo provided by Rich Saalsaa/Philomath Fire & Rescue)

Capt. Rich Saalsaa spent his Wednesday over in Corvallis as a participant in Benton County Emergency Management’s Cascadia Rising earthquake preparedness training. And then on Thursday, he was in charge of an emergency response exercise that simulated a leak from an ammonia tank car in downtown Harrisburg.

Next week on June 23, he’ll be one of the panel members taking part in the city of Philomath’s Wildfire Preparedness Town Hall (7-8:30 p.m., Philomath High School auditorium).

Along with his duties with the fire department and any other events he’s involved with that I may not even know about, Capt. Saalsaa certainly appears to be staying busy.

So what were the events this week all about?

As I wrote in a news brief earlier in the week, Cascadia Rising is a national-level exercise with thousands of participants across western United States and Canada. The training gave participants the opportunity to assess capabilities, plans, policies and procedures for an earthquake of any size.

As you might guess from the name, the training relates to preparing for and responding to a predicted 9.0 magnitude Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and the massive tsunami that would follow. The experts in these sorts of things said the last major earthquake along this fault line occurred clear back in 1700. They did the math and concluded that we’re due for another one, so we’d better be prepared.

More than 60 people from several agencies were involved in Wednesday’s exercise.

Emergency responders gear up during the Harrisburg training. (Photo provided by Rich Saalsaa/Philomath Fire & Rescue)

At the Harrisburg training, Saalsaa served as the exercise director for the Local Emergency Planning Committee-sponsored event. The simulated ammonia tank car leak scenario played out over most of the morning. At this training, the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office provided an empty railroad tank car prop and nontoxic smoke was used to simulate the leak.

Emergency responders were dispatched and Harrisburg’s public works folks had to consider a possible runoff threat to the nearby river. Linn County’s public health people were also there to advise on the impacts to public health and the environment.

That’s just a sampling of who was involved — there were also several others from Harrisburg schools working on what they would do to protect students to hospitals practicing decontamination and triage for multiple patients.

Hopefully it all came off well and lessons were learned on how to respond to a similar emergency. KVAL news interviewed Saalsaa so the training attracted some media attention.

Ironically, Philomath had a real-life hazmat situation to deal with Thursday morning with a fuel spill at McDonald’s with approximately 100 gallons of diesel on the ground. Fire & Rescue with assistance from Philomath Public Works and NWFF Environmental (which was also participating in the drill at Harrisburg) responded to the situation. The call came in at 11:51 a.m. — just in time for the restaurant’s lunch rush.

Up next for Saalsaa will be the Wildfire Preparedness Town Hall this coming Thursday in the PHS auditorium. The city has lined up several knowledgeable panelists for the event to cover an important topic that could impact all of us. I know the organizers would like to see a decent turnout — stop by and check it out.

Anyway, from my perspective, this type of emergency response training can only be seen as a good thing. It’s comforting to know that if (and when) something happens, we hopefully have people that will know exactly what to do.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.