Freight, passenger and commuter rail transportation remains extremely safe, in a relative sense, as far as miles traveled vs. incident frequency. Yet, the video footage in this story provides a stark reminder of the potentially high stakes when a derailment, fire or other emergency occurs involving a railroad's locomotives, rolling stock and passengers.
Although many firefighters might feel comfortable dealing with a "routine" transportation-related incident along a highway, roadway or waterway, the size, scale and scope of a railroad emergency can quickly overwhelm even the best-prepared community.
According to the United States Fire Administration National Fire Department Census, only 17.4 percent of U.S. fire departments had a specialized Hazmat team in January 2012.
Given this fact, it's crucial that departments with railroad rights-of-way, facilities, or rail-served industries in their service area identify target hazards; establish relationships with railroad officials; perform pre-incident planning; maintain operations-level hazardous materials training and certification; and know where specialist-level Hazmat teams are coming from and how long it will take for them to arrive.
Even with all of this preparation, specialized services beyond the scope of most fire departments might be required to safely and effectively respond to, and recover from, a railroad-related emergency. It's not the Polar Express.
About the author
With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.
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