BELLEVUE, Ohio (WJW) – Norfolk Southern made good on a commitment made following its fiery derailment in East Palestine, bringing a train and rolling classroom to Ohio to better educate first responders in the event of another such disaster.
Firefighters and first responders from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were among the first to attend what is promised to be at least eight sessions with the rolling classroom.
The railroad says more than 350 first responders are registered for the sessions which began on Tuesday.
“Railroad incidents are so rare, but we want to make sure that we have something to offer first responders, so they have that hands-on experience so that they have some of that muscle memory if they ever were to respond to one,” said Norfolk Southern Spokesman Connor Spielmaker.
Those attending Tuesday’s session were shown around a locomotive to familiarize themselves with the machine and learn what to do and what not to do in the event of a fire.
The February 3rd derailment in East Palestine initially ignited a raging fire that burned for about half of a mile down the tracks with numerous fire departments from Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania responding.
Many of the state’s departments are staffed by volunteer firefighters, most of whom have never seen anything like what they experienced in East Palestine following February’s derailment.
Among those in attendance at Tuesday’s training session were firefighters from East Palestine
“I feel better prepared after February 3rd,” said East Palestine Deputy Fire Chief Rick Gorby, who would not talk about the derailment in his community, saying he was told not to because the incident was still ongoing.
But Gorby said his department has had a good working relationship with Norfolk Southern through the incident and the cleanup and believes the classes are something from which every first responder can benefit.
“This class helps a lot, I recommend every department with a rail line coming through their community take this class,” said Gorby.
Kevin Neimeyer, a Fire Chief in Marion County Ohio who attended Tuesday’s session says he has been in the fire service for 33 years and still learned something from the classes.
“You learn something new every day. I basically learned mostly how the cars are identified and everything. It’s always good to learn and freshen up on that stuff,” said Neimeyer.
Among the topics covered in Tuesday’s session was safety around the railroad, understanding rail shipping documents, tank car identification and assessment, familiarizing themselves with tank car valves and fittings, response strategies and tactics, and learning to use a specialized app that enables first responders to use their mobile phones to look up commodity and response information on rail shipments.
In addition to the sessions scheduled with the rolling classroom, Norfolk Southern has committed to open a permanent training facility in Ohio, but the location and date of its opening have yet to be announced.
“East Palestine is near and dear to our hearts right now and we are committed to staying in East Palestine and making it right there but safety on the railroad is not in just one community it’s in all the communities that we operate in,” said Spielmaker.