PUEBLO, Colorado – A series of high-profile derailments Across the country is giving new urgency to a special facility where firefighters from around the world learn to respond to dangerous train accidents and leaks.
,Security and Emergency Response Training Center“Gives responders experience about train derailments and their associated hazards, from leaking chemical barrels to pressurized and potentially explosive tankers. While 99.9% of hazmat shipments arrive safely, railroads say, SERTC Training firefighters in helping them prepare for worst-case scenarios.
“I’m happy to have this knowledge, but I hope I never have to use it,” said trainee David Doerger, 52, a firefighter/paramedic from West Chester Township in Ohio, outside Cincinnati. “It’s definitely a low-frequency, high-threat event.”
Context:Train derailments continue to happen across the country, including Thursday in Washington. What’s up?
Rail safety gets national attention after Ohio derailment
President Joe Biden has supported a pending bipartisan resolution in Congress To significantly increase training for training firefighters to respond to hazmat derailments. The bill’s sponsors filed legislation shortly thereafter. February One Norfolk Southern derailment Freight train in East Palestine, Ohio.
In that accident, first responders set fire to some leaking tanker cars containing pressurized, flammable gas, calculating the fire posed less danger to the community than a potential explosion. Trains regularly contain dangerous chemicals such as chlorine, vinyl chloride, molten sulfur and crude oil.
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On a recent snowy day in Pueblo, firefighters from departments across the country and across Canada climbed aboard a fracked gas tanker at a SERTC facility to learn how to safely vent, or flare, gas to prevent an explosion.
They also practiced sealing leaking barrels and pumping fuel from a crashed locomotive, learned how to open and close a variety of valves, and how to read placards carrying tanker cars.
“We try to give them the most realistic training possible so that when they do go to an incident, they can respond safely and efficiently.” Kari Gonzales, President and CEO of MXV Railwhich operates the facility on behalf of the railroad and FEMA.
The MXV’s name is a nod to the equation for calculating speed – mass-velocity – and reflects the challenge in dealing with heavy, moving trains.
About 2,000 firefighters are trained per year
Gonzales said federal grants pay for the training, and about 2,000 firefighters go through the program annually. Freight railroads also send their employees through the program, she said, and departments can also use virtual training. The training is targeted to departments in communities with railroad tracks.
As firefighters warmed back up after practicing unloading a tanker, intern Tony Garza, 38, said he was reassured to learn that firefighters across the country were using similar language and approaches to managing disaster responses. have been Garza, a lieutenant in his small department in Amory, Mississippi, said any significant spill response would require help from other departments.
“We’re all using the same playbook now,” he said. “We’re taking the things I’ve always read about and actually doing it, actually practicing those skills.”