Pittsburgh Barge Breakaway Seminar Stresses Safety

Continuing its missions of safety and education, the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh is offering a seminar on barge breakaways October 21 in Aliquippa, Pa.

Registration is required no later than a day in advance of the seminar.

The Barge Breakaway Seminar is designed for on-site managerial personnel and employees responsible for shoreside fleet integrity and security as well as deckhands securing barges in fleets, according to the association.

David Podurgiel, vice president of the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh, said it was important to offer an in-person seminar to bring the industry together around an important topic.

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“The Port of Pittsburgh extends the full navigable waterways of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers along with 126 miles of the Ohio River,” he said. “There are 20 locks and dams along with more than 100 large and small terminals and fleets. Our goal is to bring USACE, USCG, National Weather Service and industry experts together in one room to have the largest educational impact on those who attend.”

Main points will include what the cost of a barge breakaway is, “from interrupting commerce if a lock or the channel is shut down, the cost of lawsuits and further regulations that could impact industry,” Podurgiel said.

“If there was only one thing I would emphasize to everyone, it is to be prepared at all times,” said Shane Checkan, another board member. “Create a culture where safe and correct fleeting, mooring and tow building are habitual and common practice. You will put yourselves and your company in a much better place to be able to deal with Mother Nature when she strikes.”

Eric Velez, the new commanding officer at Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh, will be among the speakers, said Michael Graham, the association’s president. The Corps of Engineers will also have representatives on hand to talk about fleeting requirements, permitting and the importance of locks and dams in a high-water situation. The National Weather Service will discuss weather patterns and causes of high water. 

Podurgiel and Checkan will also give presentations, talking about the importance of following the guides in use and plans for high-water events every company should have in place and what to expect before, during and after the high-water event as well as how to mitigate its effects on companies’ fleets.

“Specific aspects will be: how high water occurs, specific weather patterns prone to creating high-water situations, how to secure your fleet and what to check for prior to the water rising, how to ride out a high-water event, boat placement in pool and why you need extra boats available, what to do in case of a breakaway, what the potential ramifications are to both you and the surrounding businesses of a breakaway and what hazards and damage can be caused by them, and, finally, what the cost could be to not only the company at fault but to the environment and anyone downstream that’s affected,” Graham said.  “All of these things and more, plus the hands-on instruction at an actual working landing will be covered during this presentation.”

Carole Ann Krelow, the association’s executive director, said the association has received immensely positive feedback from previous seminars it has offered each October since 2014.

For the Breakaway Barge Seminar, the association alternates programs annually, board member Ryan Newton said. One year’s seminar focuses more on hands-on training and discussing best practices with those working at Pittsburgh-area fleets. The next year works more with shoreside management utilizing scenario-based training alongside government partners to better understand the stakeholders’ roles during a large-scale breakaway.

“In every case we focus on prevention of breakaways being paramount over all else,” Newton said.

The association offers several educational seminars each year. In addition to the annual Barge Breakaway Seminar, it offers a Man Overboard Seminar and multiple “Who Works The Rivers” events in conjunction with RiverWorks Discovery to support ongoing missions to educate youth about the industry.

For each seminar, the board of directors selects presenters from all aspects of industry.

“The role playing: ‘What would you do?’ and hands-on portion of the event are truly experiences that stay with the participants,” Krelow said of the Barge Breakaway Seminar.

It takes the combination of classroom learning and hands-on participation to make the biggest impact, Checkan said.

“It’s very important to have a balance of knowledge between knowing how and when to prepare and act and actually preparing and acting,” he said. “The classroom and scenario side of the training will install in everyone the knowledge on the why, when and how. The hands-on session will physically show you how to secure and fleet properly. It’s imperative that you understand both or at a minimum that you have team members who are able to go out and physically inspect and perform the safe fleeting procedures. I believe they are both equally vital.”

How To Register

The Barge Breakaway Seminar will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. October 21 at The Fez, 2312 Broodhead Road Hopewell Twp., Aliquippa, Pa. Registration and a continental breakfast will begin at 8 a.m. Lunch is provided.

Free, onsite parking is available. The cost per person is $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers to cover food and beverages. Check or cash will be accepted at the door, or credit card information may be provided, but pre-registration is required by October 20.

For registration, contact Krelow at or 724-991-0136.