Friday, Apr 27, 2018
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Seminar puts focus on train accidents

Hazardous materials create issues


Ryan Pruitt, a CSX hazardous materials manager, asks first responders — including Willard firefighter Linda Pfaff, left — to identify a fitting on a crude-oil tank car.

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WILLARD, Ohio — Responding to train accidents isn’t typically associated with the Coast Guard.

But with three railroad bridges spanning the Maumee River and an extensive rail network around Toledo’s port, its personnel could be first at the scene of a local rail emergency in those areas.

That was how Cmdr. Charles Bright and a delegation from the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office Toledo found themselves at a hazardous-materials response seminar Thursday at a CSX Transportation railroad yard in southern Huron County, along with dozens of firefighters from nearby departments and others potentially involved in handling train accidents.

“We have several critical passings [bridges] in Toledo, so it’s important to us to have a good understanding of train transportation and response capabilities,” Commander Bright, the Toledo safety office’s commanding officer, said between stops at a locomotive and a flat car displaying various types of tank-car fixtures that responders might encounter at an accident scene.

“Hands-on is the best type of training you can get,” he added, echoing the thoughts of other participants in the event set up jointly by CSX and the Firefighters Education and Training Foundation, based in Sherborn, Mass.

The “safety train” was parked within sight of the spot where on Nov. 27, 2013, an otherwise minor derailment in the CSX yard ruptured a tank car carrying styrene monomer, a highly flammable chemical used to make plastics.

Several hundred nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution, with some residents not allowed back until the following Saturday.

No one was injured, and the investigation blamed the derailment on a broken rail.

Thursday’s program was focused on crude-oil trains that now roll through town almost daily, hauling 80 to 100 tank cars, each carrying about 30,000 gallons from North Dakota to refineries on the East Coast.

Such oil trains have been involved in several highly publicized derailments during the last year or so, including one last summer that rolled down a hill unattended and derailed on a curve in Lac-Megantic, Que., causing explosions and fires that killed 47 people.

The CSX/​Firefighters’ Safety Train’s stop in Willard this week is the 12th of 14 stops on a tour that started in the Philadelphia area in mid-May and will visit Garrett, Ind., next week before concluding in Chicago. All of its stops have been along CSX’s primary route for oil trains.

The training classes are provided at no charge.

“The price is right,” said Carla Groleau, a CSX spokesman traveling with the train. “Smaller fire departments may not have the training budget for things like this.”

“It’s absolutely fabulous,” added Willard’s chief, Joe Riederman, whose department does annual familiarization trips through the massive railroad yard that is one of the community’s major reasons for being.

“For the people who’ve done it before, it’s an absolutely great review, and for the people seeing this the first time, they’re provided great information.”

Willard firefighter Linda Pfaff, with the department for 1½ years, was among the latter group Thursday, having also been part of the response to the styrene leak in November.

“This was very informative — a great opportunity,” Miss Pfaff said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to attend.”

“It’s invaluable,” added Tiffin fire Chief Bill Ennis, whose department also sent several members to the program. “Railcars are going through Tiffin all the time, and we don’t really think about what’s in them. This is quite an eye-opener, what we’re tasked with and now might have to handle.”

Contact David Patch at: or 419-724-6094.

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