Lessons Shared from Calif. Train Crash

Preparation was the main theme pushed by LAFD Battalion Chief Joseph Castro at his Firehouse World presentation on the Metrolink/Union Pacific train collision of Sept. 12, 2008.

Castro addressed the different concerns for those on scene, from the perspectives of first responder through commander, but primarily focusing on command. The first thing for command to do, he said, is to get your arms around the situation and add clarity to the mission. He reviewed the full spectrum of operations including initial action phase, tactical priorities, resources and organization, initial objectives and subsequent objectives that evolved during the course of the operation.

He made a special point of discussing the family assistance center provided to engage with the public. He stressed the importance of this service and of properly manning it with trained personnel. "You can't send somebody there that's not prepared to deal with it," he said. "They have to be trained, knowledgeable and have done this before."

The chief also gave a rundown of EMS operations including ambulance staging and patient tracking. In total, 135 people were treated. There were 81 transports, including 34 air evacuations, and there were 25 fatalities. He said they purposely sent patients to twelve different trauma centers in order to avoid overwhelming any one facility, a lesson they learned from a smaller 2005 train crash in Glendale, Calif.

Among the tools utilized by the response agencies was a chart, which Castro showed, of responsibilities to be divided between fire, police and EMS to keep them on track in a major incident. The responders also learned after this event of the recovery plans in place by railroad officials. They already had actions underway to bring in the necessary equipment to clear the tracks and restore the system. "They had a plan, because time is money for them," Castro said. "They have specific and professional emergency operations plans."

Castro wrapped up the session with additional keys to success and lessons learned, and ended the session on a note of warning. "We live in a time of unparalleled risk," he said. "The key is preparation... so that we will sink to that level and it will be sufficient."