The dramatic 20-minute video has been shown to emergency workers at conferences around the country as a reminder of the dangers of hazardous material incidents.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- "If I don't make it, please tell my mamma I love her."
Those were the words of Avondale Mills worker Lamar Ledford on a 911 call after a train crashed into parked railroad cars and released a toxic chlorine cloud. Ledford survived, but six of his co-workers at the Graniteville plant were among those killed in the deadliest train wreck involving hazardous materials in nearly three decades.
The call has been preserved on a DVD made by a member of the Aiken County Hazmat team that is part documentary, part cautionary tale of what not to do as a first responder.
Shortly after the accident, Lt. Ed Schuler of the Aiken County Hazmat team began compiling audio and video clips to give a glimpse of what it was like to see the destruction firsthand.
The dramatic 20-minute video with its somber music, exclusive footage from a hazmat reconnaissance team and the chilling 911 call has been shown to emergency workers at conferences around the country as a reminder of the dangers of hazardous material incidents.
The video's message: Don't rush in to an incident when you're not exactly sure what's going on.
That was a lesson learned from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center when police officers and firefighters ran into the buildings only to be killed when the towers collapsed.
In Graniteville, many residents were awakened by the early morning wreck and third-shift mill workers frantically called 911 complaining of breathing problems and itchy eyes.
"A lot of first responders like to run in especially firefighters," said Schuler, 51, who has previously been a paid firefighter and has been a first responder for years. "I want them to realize the seriousness of these hazardous materials incidents. ... The difference between life and death is that suit."
The DVD shows the railcars crushed like soda cans and pushed into a pile and yellow smoke spewing from a tanker. Another shot shows a small car crushed by a massive tree the man trapped in the vehicle survived because the car shielded him from the chlorine.
The emergency response to the disaster has been praised by local, state and federal agencies. But Schuler hopes more can be learned from the incident, especially using the documentary's emotional impact.
Newspaper clippings shown on the DVD give viewers information about the crash and include the obituaries of the nine people killed. Photographs of some of the 5,400 residents evacuated and emergency workers are part of a slide show on the DVD.
"It was a great add-on to the impact of the training, to tell these people, 'This is the real world you're going to, guys,' " said David White, chairman of Industrial Fire World, who invited Aiken County Hazmat Chief Don Turno out to Texas to give a presentation at the group's annual conference.
White said he remembered the 911 call from the DVD.
"This is not a sanitized training session where we're not going to make anybody feel bad," said White, who has responded disasters worldwide. "This is the real world. This is what you're going to face and you better be ready to accept the challenges if you pin that badge on that says, 'I'm an emergency responder and I'll be there.' "
Though Schuler said some people have told him the images are harsh, he said his primary audience is emergency workers trained to handle tragedy.
"It's hard to get live footage of a real chlorine incident," said Clarence Bennett, hazmat coordinator for the South Carolina Fire Academy, who has shown footage from the incident to a couple of classes. "It provides some behind the scenes, first-look, at what you can expect in a major incident."
The Aiken County Hazmat team has shown the DVD, which is to be for nonprofit uses only, at conferences in Maine and Texas.
Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Volunteer Fire Chief Phil Napier learned the hard way what it's like to enter a chemical spill without warning. Napier was part of an erratic response during the first 30 minutes of the crash, when firefighters headed to their station, located just hundreds of yards from the crash site.
Napier, who was overcome by the chlorine and had to turn around and drive away from the crash site after speaking briefly with the train's engineer, has made presentations at a fire chief and hazmat round-table in Virginia and a Fire Department Instructional Conference in Indianapolis.
"They say we're all very fortunate that it wasn't worse than it was and they feel like we did as good a job as anyone could," Napier said.
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