Applying life-saving lessons from past train derailments

Rail securityApplying life-saving lessons from past train derailments
Published 3 March 2015

Firefighters and first responders who were called two weeks ago to an oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia applied life-saving lessons learned from a rail disaster which occurred thirty-seven years ago. When the CSX train derailed near Mount Carbon last month, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the fire from the explosion, but instead they evacuated residents, maintained a safe distance, and let the fire run its course — which took four days. Choosing not to put the fire out with water likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water.

Firefighters and first responders who were called two weeks ago to an oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia applied life-saving lessons learned from a rail disaster which occurred thirty-seven years ago. On 24 February 1978, a derailed tank carfilled with liquid propane ruptured in Waverly, Tennessee, killing sixteen people including the town’s police and fire chiefs. Buddy Frazier, the city manager of Waverly, who was a young police officer at the time said that today’s emergency responders are better trained and equipped, and still he understands the challenges they face. “Anytime there’s an incident anywhere in the country,” he said, “I think about what happened here and how similar it is.”
When the CSX train derailed near Mount Carbon last month, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the fire from the explosion, but instead they evacuated residents, maintained a safe distance, and let the fire run its course — which took four days. Choosing not to put the fire out with water, according to Emergency Management, likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water. It also saved the lives of residents and first responders. No one was killed and only one resident suffered minor injuries after the derailment and explosions that followed after. “One of the real points of progress over the past few years is the training of local first responders on how to deal with these events,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Homeland Security News Wire reported that railroads have played a part in training first responders to deal with oil train derailments and explosions (see “More crude-oil trains means more accidents, spills,” HSNW, 5 February 2015). In 2014, 1,500 first responders participated in a new class at the industry’s testing center in Pueblo, Colorado. The rail industry paid $5 million to sponsor last year’s trainees and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) secured another $5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue the program. Last October, CSX held a three-day training class at its rail yard in South Charleston, West Virginia. Many of the fire departments that responded to February’s derailment participated in that class. In 2014, CSX brought to nineteen cities its “Safety Train,” which features a classroom, different types of tank cars, and instructors who help first responders become familiar with railroad equipment.
C. W. Sigman, fire coordinator for Kanawha County — which has first responders who attended CSX’s training class in South Charleston and responded to the derailment near Mount Carbon, said local first responders were well prepared. Last summer, Sigman began communicating with the deputy fire chief in Montgomery, West Virginia about crude oil trains. When the derailment occurred in February, “He already knew what it was when the call came in,” Sigman said. “He was ready to go.”

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