COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has announced that Norfolk Southern Corporation has agreed to his idea to improve and expand firefighter training by creating a new first responders training center and expanding its Operation Awareness & Response (OAR) program, which travels the company’s 22-state network and trains first responders on how to respond safely to rail incidents.
“The derailment in East Palestine made clear that ensuring first responders are prepared for disasters involving hazardous materials is vitally important to the safety of communities,” said DeWine. “Often first responders are volunteers, and their need to have the most up-to-date training and equipment is essential. Today’s commitment by Norfolk Southern is an important next step in the company’s commitment to make the citizens of Ohio and of East Palestine whole after the recent derailment, a commitment Ohio will continue to monitor closely.”
The new safety training center’s mission will be focused on providing additional, free training for first responder across the region, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. This effort will also strengthen coordination between railroads and first responders in the event of an emergency response.
The location of the center will be decided in partnership with community leaders. Until a proper location is identified, training classes will commence on March 22 at Norfolk Southern’s Moorman Yard in Bellevue, Ohio.
“These commitments are the direct result of my conversations with Governor DeWine and other leaders, all to better support our first responders and their communities. First responders are often immediately on the scene of a rail incident and we want to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to work safely and effectively to protect the health and safety of their fellow citizens,” said Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan H. Shaw.
In alignment with the addition of a new training center, Norfolk Southern is also expanding its OAR program, which was created to connect emergency first responders in Norfolk Southern communities with information and training resources. In 2023, four of the 12 scheduled stops will be in Ohio. First responders will be offered hands-on training in the form of the program’s safety train, which includes a dedicated locomotive, specially equipped classroom box cars, and several tank cars. It also provides training on the AskRail mobile app that enables first responders to use their mobile phones to look up commodity and response information on rail shipments.
These latest efforts are a continuation of Governor DeWine’s work to improve first responder training. Recently, the Ohio Task Force on Volunteer Fire Service, formed by DeWine in April 2022, released their initial report on how to improve volunteer fire departments with better conditions for crew members, continuing education, and a variety of community programs.