Feb. 04--South Mississippi's first responders are prepared to deal with train derailments, emergency managers say, while transportation company owners have their own teams of hazardous materials specialists, along with contracts with private companies for emergency responses.
"Looking back over the 38 years I've been doing emergency response in one form or another on the Gulf Coast, railroads have been a very limited area of my responses," said Earl Etheridge, currently director of Emergency Services in Jackson County. "They don't have many problems."
A Canadian National Railway train derailed Friday morning in Perry County, forcing evacuation of about 50 people. News reports said eight of 21 derailed cars spilled their contents.
The Hattiesburg Fire Department sent its hazmat response team to the derailment, said Robert Pickering, team leader for the South Mississippi Regional Response Team, comprised of three task forces for Mississippi's 24 southernmost counties. The Gulfport Fire Department also sent a crew of three in the city's hazmat vehicle.
Emergency response teams are trained to detect and contain leaks, plus evacuate endangered residents.
Railroad companies have their own hazmat teams and private contractors to deal with containment and cleanup. United States Environmental Services responded within two hours to the derailment for Canadian National, one of its clients. Workers were able to repair punctures in the rail cars and stop leaks, said George Malvaney, USES vice president of environmental operations.
USES also has contracts with CSX Transportation Inc, which has the major east-west rail line on the Coast, and with Kansas City Southern Railway Co., which operates the major north-south line through South Mississippi.
"We have workers trained to go in and mitigate environmental damage," Malveny said. "We'll stop the leak. We provide personnel and equipment to excavate any contaminated soil or remove contaminated materials."
Because cities are built around train tracks, the potential dangers are high. Some of the chemicals transported can be deadly.
"Until you know what you've got, you want to have the utmost protection," said Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy.
Self-contained hazmat suits allow firefighters and other trained responders to assess derailments. Lacy said responders work as quickly as possible to close off threatened areas.
"The last thing we need is people coming into an area to take pictures," Lacy said. "We've got to protect people when, sometimes, they don't realize they need that protection."
Public works employees have some level of training for hazardous chemicals because they are sometimes called on to bring in heavy equipment that can be used to contain spills.
CSX provides emergency response organizations with information about hazardous materials traveling through the areas, said Kristin Seay of CSX corporate communications. She said the company also offers training for first responders.
"Tank cars have evolved over time with additional safety features and durability," Seay wrote in an email. "Those features include thicker and stronger steel and head shields that provide additional protection at either end of the tank car in the event of a collision."
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