Hazmat Studies: Protecting the World's Biggest Railroad Yard

Bailey Rail Yard in Nebraska, on the west side of North Platte, is the largest railroad classification yard in the world. Named in honor of former Union Pacific Railroad President Edd H. Bailey, the yard covers 2,850 acres with a total length of eight...


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Bailey Rail Yard in Nebraska, on the west side of North Platte, is the largest railroad classification yard in the world. Named in honor of former Union Pacific Railroad President Edd H. Bailey, the yard covers 2,850 acres with a total length of eight miles, well beyond the borders of North Platte, a community of 24,500 people in western Nebraska. Placed end to end, railroad track within Bailey would reach 315 miles and cover the distance between North Platte east to Omaha, on the Iowa border along the Missouri River.

Omaha is the location of Union Pacific’s world headquarters. Every 24 hours, 10,000 railroad cars are handled in Bailey. North Platte is home to 2,600 Union Pacific workers, including those who work in the yard and shops and those who operate over-the-road trains. Union Pacific routes range from Chicago, IL; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA; and Milwaukee, WI, on the east, to Seattle, WA; and Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA, on the West Coast. Bailey does not have a fire brigade or hazardous materials response capability in house, so the North Platte Fire Department handles all fires and hazmat emergencies. Union Pacific contracts with a clean-up company to deal with non-emergency hazardous materials spills and clean-up of spills handled by the fire department.

The Union Pacific, a part of the Transcontinental Railroad, is the largest railroad in North America. Union Pacific is celebrating its 150th anniversary. During World War II, the North Platte Canteen operated by volunteers and paid for totally by private funds served more than six million members of the armed forces during 10-minute troop train stops in town. During that short amount of time, service personnel were given food, magazines and newspapers to take with them. North Platte was also home to William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who organized his famous Wild West Show from his ranch north of Bailey. His show was transported via rail and wagon.

 

Early fire protection

North Platte’s first organized fire protection was a volunteer fire brigade organized shortly after the arrival of the Union Pacific in November 1866. Initial membership included 12 employees of the railroad who primarily responded to prairie fires (to become a member, a volunteer was required to have his own leather bucket).

North Platte was incorporated as a city in 1874 and the fire brigade was reorganized into the North Platte Volunteer Fire Department in 1877. This department holds the distinction of being the oldest volunteer organization still in operation without any interruption from its inception in Lincoln County. In the early days, the volunteers were called to service by the sounding of the Union Pacific’s shop whistle. North Platte’s first career firefighter was Amiel Traub, who was appointed in 1918.

Today, the North Platte Fire Department is a combination organization with 42 career members and 27 volunteers. Volunteers train three times per month and are called to duty to provide additional personnel to supplement the career force for working structure fires and wildland fires. Volunteers also handle many of the fire prevention and public education functions of the department. They are organized into three shifts with a sergeant and second lieutenant for each shift. Career personnel work 24-hour shifts with a captain, lieutenant and three firefighters at Station 1 and a captain and three firefighters at Stations 2 and 3. A fire marshal, battalion chief and assistant chief round out the chief’s command staff.

The North Platte Fire Department is organized into three companies, which originated with the inception of the volunteer brigade in 1887. Buffalo Bill Hook and Ladder was started by a $100 donation from “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Other companies include the Cody Engine and Hinman Hose. Each company is comprised of 12 members; three members of each company serve as line and support officers. Richard Paul Pedersen Jr., a department member for 40 years and the chief for the past 20 years, recently retired. Dennis Thompson was promoted to take his place. The department covers an area of 369 square miles and responded to 3,288 alarms for service in 2012 – 519 fire alarms, 2,717 EMS calls and 52 hazmat calls. Response equipment includes three engine companies, one truck company, one heavy rescue/hazmat, one hazmat trailer, three medic units, a tanker, a light unit and grass rigs.

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