SIDNEY — It started with a 911 call to Sidney Police — a CSX train had derailed on the tracks by Trupointe Cooperative early Friday morning. Firefighters and EMS were dispatched to the scene and discovered two railcars were leaking chemicals.
Word spread on social media and via the city’s HyperReach — with four simple words: “This is only an exercise.”
An exercise that could be a reality in the city of Sidney or any of the small villages in the county where a train travels. But on Friday morning, it wasn’t a real emergency, but rather a scenario of what could happen and is the city of Sidney and the emergency personnel in Shelby County ready for such an occurrence.
Staging areas were established at the scene to handle the emergency. From the command center to the decon tent, firefighters and emergency personnel knew what their job was and waited to get word to begin their portion of the exercise.
Assistant Fire Chief Chad Hollinger was the public information officer for the exercise. After gathering information from all involved, he held a press conference for the media to inform them of the situation.
“At 8:45 a.m. this morning, Sidney dispatch received a 911 call that there were cars derailed at Trupointe,” Hollinger said.
Three chemicals were leaking from cars, which caused the emergency. The leaks included an alcohol leak, chlorine and a sodium hydroxide leak.
Five victims, he said, were decontaminated at the scene and transported to the hospital. One of the victims was a CSX employee. The other victims were people who were jogging in the area.
Providing assistance at the scene, said Hollinger, were members of the Ohio National Guard, CSX HazMat, Sidney Police and county firefighters and EMS.
“This is going to be a long-scale incident,” said Hollinger. “We have opened an operation center at the Sidney Police Department. The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Connection Point Church.
“A HyperReach call was sent to all the residents,” he said. “We’ve asked them to shut down their air handling units and stay isolated in their homes.”
If anyone begins suffering any symptoms, he said, they should evacuate their home and go to Wilson Hospital for treatment.
“Close up your home, stay inside,” said Hollinger. “We give you more guidance as this proceeds. We ask that you stay in place if you can. If you suffer symptoms, call 911. Wilson is ready to receive patients.”
The Ohio National Guard’s 52nd Civil Support Unit was on the scene monitoring air quality, said Hollinger.
“That’s their specialty,” said Hollinger. “They are assigned to the HazMat team.”
A call was also made to the Ohio EPA but Hollinger didn’t know if they had arrived on the scene as of the press conference.
There were no casualties or injuries to firefighters at the scene, he said.
Later in the morning, after being questioned, Hollinger said there were 21 cars in the train convoy and two experienced damage. The chlorine leak, said Hollinger, gave off a vapor. The alcohol was a liquid leak and firefighters quickly contained it. The sodium hydroxide leak, he said, wasn’t an issue.
The HazMat team, said Hollinger, applied a C-kit to contain leak on the top of the rail car.
“We can always improve,” said Hollinger. “At the command post, things went well.”
Hollinger was the public information officer June 17, 2014, when semi-tractor trailer’s began leaking anhydrous ammonia.
“Social media got ahead of us on that one,” said Hollinger. “We have to let the people know what’s going on or our phones are going to to ringing.”
Hollinger said he knows how many people are on site in case something else happens.
“Right now, there are 53 people on site. There’s a chain of command and they are accountable for working on geography and functions. We track people in and out of the site. Some go to rehab, others to staging. I have a limited number of people to reach out to to find out how many people are on site,” said Hollinger.
Next to the area where Hollinger held his press conference, the American Red Cross had set up a canteen so those working at the scene could get water, snacks and take time to rest before heading back to the scene.
“It was about 9:45 a.m. that we arrived on scene,” said volunteer Raymond Smith, of Piqua. “We also have people setting up at the church.”
Smith, who is a former OSHA instructor, said exercises such as Fridays are vital to protect the citizens of a community.
“Train, train, train, and then hope it never happens,” said Smith.
Student ambassadors for Lehman Catholic High School served as “victims” for the exercise.
Freshman Samantha Edwards, of Sidney, was cast as a 25-year-old pregnant woman.
“It thought it would be fun,” said Edwards. “But I’m nervous because I don’t want to mess it up.”
Fellow freshman Elizabeth Gibson, of St. Paris, played a 35-year-old woman who has a severe cold and is sneezing and coughing.
“I look very sick,” said Gibson. “I thought it would be really cool to do. I’ve never rode in the ambulance before and we get to do that.”
Gibson said each “victim” was told what they would be doing in the exercise.
“They said we couldn’t mess it up,” said Gibson.
Grace Monnin, of Piqua, who is also a freshman, portrayed a 19-year-old woman with a crying baby. She also has hearing aids which weren’t working.
“I wanted to experience it so I’d know what to do if it ever does happen,” said Monnin.
The “victims” were transported to Wilson Health where they were treated. Citizens who drove themselves to the hospital were decontaminated in the decon trailer.
Gail Lobin, CSX media relations, was busy at the site making sure members of the media were getting the information they needed.
“This is a day for everyone to learn,” said Lobin. “It’s an opportunity for them to learn while simulating an incident.
“Safety is our most important priority,” she said. “Even though this is a simulation, we still take precautions when we do a walk through. We look both ways when crossing the tracks.”
CSX has tracks running through 23 states, said Lobin. Safety Train programs are held throughout those states.
The American Red Cross accepted seven people at the shelter at Connection Point Church. Each person registered at the shelter and received a list of rules.
“We open the shelter for the immediate needs of the people,” said Marc Cantrell, American Red Cross.
The shelter included cots, blankets, comfort kit and canteen. A mental health professional was also on site.
There were 15 volunteers, said Cantrell. “A lot of them are new ones, so this good training for them. It’s a good opportunity to see how a shelter works.”
Cantrell said the Red Cross can always use more volunteers for their programs.
Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones said the exercise went well.
“As with every training exercise, there’s always room for improvement,” said Jones. “We saw our strengths and we saw some places were we have some minor tweaks to work on. I’d say is was an ‘A’ or ‘A-’ overall.”
Jones said while it seemed like there was lag time at the emergency site, the scenario was run in “real time.”
“We had civilians walking walking up so the firefighters had to work on their decon while they were still setting up the decon unit,” said Jones.
“I think it went well,” said Cheri Drinkwine, director of Shelby County Emergency Management Agency. “I think we hit our objectives. There were a few hiccups, but you’ll have that.”
Rob Doolittle, CSX director of communications, said the exercise shows how much Shelby County officials are looking out for the safety of their residents.
“The level of enthusiasm for emergency preparedness was unusual,” said Doolittle. “Shelby County is ready to protect the public’s safety.”
Doolittle said the partnership between CSX and the first responders will be beneficial if an incident every happens in the county.
“The first responders are getting to know our HazMat people,” said Doolittle. No matter what time the incident might occur, both parties now know each other and will be able to work even better together in an emergency.
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling served as an controller in the command center in the police department.
“This was a good opportunity to learn and train,” said Balling. “It’s good to learn the areas where we need to improve upon.”
Since it was a full-scale exercise, all of the EOC was opened.
A hotwash debriefing was held during lunch. A final report will be given during the May LEPC meeting on how the exercise went.
The exercise was sponsoed by the Shelby County EMA/LEPC.
And remember: This was only an exercise.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.