Fire Fighting Operations and The Railroad Environment
Perhaps there are some communities' volunteer fire departments who are not located near an active railroad line but back up a number of departments that are. In parts of Western New York, there are two very busy active railroad main lines that run parallel closely to each other for much of the distance between Buffalo and the New York-Pennsylvania State Line. If one of these lines should have all grade crossings, in say, Westfield, or Silver Creek blocked by a train that just derailed some if its cars, that could pose serious problems in event the local fire department needs to use one of those crossings to get to a fire or accident scene. It seems to me that the fire chiefs of volunteer departments in this area should have some means of contacting train dispatchers to get train traffic on either or both lines stopped, especially if the crew of an engine company needs to run hose from the pumper across the tracks to a nearby fire scene and it is apparent the train with the derailed cars is going to be stopped for quite some time. That is when the train dispatcher as well as the train crew should be contacted. Since railroads use one set of frequencies and emergency services use another, the issue of interoperability comes into play. In the cases of such Western New York communities as Silver Creek,Angola, or even Westfield, where both the Norfolk Southern and CSX main lines run close together, if a train blocks the crossing of one railroad (whether moving at normal speed) or stopped for an emergency), the gates on both crossings are lowered, blocking them both. While it is preferable to avoid having to run hose across an active railroad track to a fire scene close by, there are going to be times when it just cannot be avoided, which is all the more reason why fire departments, if they don't already, should have a fast means of contacting train dispatchers, railroad police, and others who can get rail traffic stopped while firefighting operations are conducted in the affected area. The CSX line carries approximately 60 trains a day, while the Norfolk Southern line which runs parallel to it, closely in some areas, adds about another dozen or so trains to that, makes it all the more important that fire departments have away of contacting either or both railroads and let their operations people know that fire fighting operations necessitating the laying of hose across the tracks and that train traffic needs to be halted as soon as possible. There are a few other locations in Western New York with customers serviced by one or more railroads. As for assisting fire operations at a derailment scene, it is also important that fire personnel know what they are deailing with in the event that an accident to a train precipated a fire involved emergency, this is particularly important where dangerous goods are involved. Every train crew, from the time they leave their initial terminal carries a set of papers listing pertenant information about the train including locomotive numbers, train identification symbol, name of engineer and conductor as well as those of any additional crew members, followed by a listing of all the cars in the train. This is called the TRAIN CONSIST, in addition to listing each car, the origin and destination of each car as well as its contents are also specified. If a given car is carrying a dangerous cargo,such as LP gas, or chlorine, it is so indicated on the train consist and a dangerous goods waybill giving additional information about that load or loads accompanies the train consist.Generally, the train consist will be in the possession of the conductor, who is in charge of the train and the goods it is transporting. Incident commanders should look to him for the information they need to properly deal with the incident. The train consist and supplementary waybills will generally contain that information. Back in 2003, I visited the Transcaer safety train that Norfolk Southern brought to Buffalo's Bison Yard and found the visit worthwhile, having picked up much useful information that I thought would benefit my department. Since my role is strictly a support one, I attended two all day seminars in the information gathering process and found it most useful and passed it along to my department's chief. Even though the railroad that served my community is gone, our dept. backs up departments in nearby communities with active rail lines and I felt the information I gathered at the safety train would benefit them as well as those departments in the on line communities. In those communities served by one or more railroads, I believe it would be worth their while if their departments worked with the railroads once in awhile to develop a plan to handle incidents involving trains if they have not done so already. I prepared a report for my department on the visit to the Transcaer safety train and saw to it that the line officers each got a copy. If this train comes to Western New York again soon, I urge everyone who possibly can, to attend the seminars held aboard, practical training sessions offered and gather all the information, both printed, and otherwise. The department will benefit and so will the community your department serves. This can be a real life saver. That's why the Transcaer safety train was put together by the AAR and Chemical manufacturers Association.