SIDNEY — The road leading into Trupointe Co-op wasn’t lined with tractors and semis pulling trailers filled with grain Wednesday morning. Instead, the sides were lined with Sidney Fire Department fire engines and rescue squads.
“We have four identical trainings set up,” said Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones, “for our crew-based training. There is a four hour window in which they are taking refresher training for their HazMat training.”
The training is being held in conjunction with a weeklong training program conducted in conjunction with CSX Railroad and its Safety Train so local emergency personnel will know what to do in a train derailment. The training concludes Friday morning with a full-scale chemical emergency.
Sidney crews received training Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All Sidney firefighters are trained at the “operational” level for HazMat training. Thursday afternoon, all HazMat technicians will have hands on training.
“On Saturday, we have the exact same class for all the volunteers in the county,” said Jones.
There are approximately 160 people participating in Friday’s train derailment exercise. CSX will have 20 individuals on the scene.
When an emergency occurs, the first responders on the scene — local firefighters and police officers — access the scene and determine what needs to be done.
“In a case like what will happen Friday morning,” said Jones, “we’ll identify the potential danger of the chemical spill. We’ll put our initial action plan (IAP) into action.
“The initial first responders will reach out for support,” he said. “It’s like in a baseball game where you make a call to the bench for extra players. That’s what the first responders will do.”
The first call to the bench will be for members of the Shelby County HazMat team to respond to the scene. The local HazMat team is composed of Sidney firefighters along with different personnel from county fire and rescue squads. A member of the Anna Police Department is also a member of the team, which said Jones, is beneficial to the team to have the law enforcement included.
The team is a mutual aid company created by the Sidney Fire Chief, EMA director, LEPC chairman, county commissioners and Sidney city manager. Its advisory board is responsible for the administrative and oversight of the team.
Shelby County is a Type II team which includes at least 15 members trained to hazardous materials technician; can handle known and unknown industrial chemical releases; supplements basic intervention/control techniques; directs technical decontamination of known and unknown chemicals; has a 12-hour operational period with logistical support; and will be onside within two hours of a request.
The HazMat team, said Jones, are subject matter experts for those already on the scene.
“All the HazMat equipment is stored at the Shelby County EMA office,” said Jones. “That’s where our Level A suits, which look like space suits, are stored. We have two vehicles that we use. One is an incident command vehicle. The other is a service truck which has all the tools on it we need.”
Once the incident command vehicle is on the scene, said Jones, the HazMat team has computer access to help with the emergency.
“They will be able to plot where a chemical spill might go,” said Jones. “Then we (first responders) will take our IAP and tweak it if needed. We might say yes to the plan, no to the plan or tweak it. We want to provide the best level of protection for the crews working at the emergency site.”
The second set for first responders — police officers — work closely with the firefighters. Each has its own incident commander and the two work together to determine the plan of actrion, said Jones.
The Sidney Police Department will be an active participant during Friday’s exercise.
“The Emergency Operations Center will be opened here at the department to assist with all of the activity,” said Sidney Chief Will Balling. “During a critical incident of this nature we are there to assist the HazMat team with scene security, evacuation plans, and traffic assistance to name a few functions that we will be involved in.”
Capt. Bill Shoemaker will be assisting the incident commander and will be at the scene to help direct law enforcement first responders.
“We will have officers ‘role playing’ shutting down intersections and evacuating the nearby neighborhoods,” said Balling. “This is only an exercise so they will not actually be doing this. They will also be providing security and aid to first responders at the scene. Capt. Jerry Tangeman will be placed in the EOC room to help with the planning and overall operations of the event.
“Sgt. Josh Divens was part of the planning process and help with the organization of the event,” said Balling. “He has been the primary contact with the Police Department for this exercise. He both he and I will serve as one of the controllers for the exercise.”
As a controller, Balling will be monitoring the release of public information to ensure the it is timely and well-coordinated.
“Overall it is a very large event and it is a great opportunity for training,” said Balling.
Other agencies are also preparing for the exercise.
“Wilson Hospital had a seat at the table with us in planning this,” said Jones. “They rolled their sleeves up and got involved with the program.”
Jones said in preparation for Friday’s emergency, practice sessions have been held at Wilson Health with their employees receiving patients from both the scene of the emergency and those walking in who might have driven through the chemical cloud.
“We also use amateur radio operators,” said Jones. “They help with communication during an emergency.”
Mike Bethge is one of the CSX employees on hand for this week’s training. He is based in Buffalo, New York. Other trainers from Ohio and Michigan are also participating in the event.
Bethge said it’s hard to estimate how many full-scale exercises are done yearly, but he thinks it’s around 10.
“There are 30 to 40 training events a year with the safety train,” said Bethge.
In the winter, most of the training exercises are in the south. The northern part of the U.S. holds its training in the summer months. There are also in-house training programs at the fire departments, he said.
The goal of the training, said both men, is railroad safety. Sidney, said Jones, is a unique site as it has a railroad line going north and south and another one going east and west.
“This is a great opportunity for the region,” said Jones. “It’s been very refreshing to see all the stakeholders in the city/county roll up their sleeves and get involved. This makes it easy for me to come to work in the mornings.”