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Mass. County Drills for Toxic Chlorine Freight Train Accident

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- A hypothetical freight train pulls into the Intermodal center on Columbus Avenue. Chlorine gas begins leaking from one of the cars. A gas plume heads east toward City Hall and the Police Department. How should authorities respond?

That was the scenario discussed at Berkshire Hills Country Club yesterday when the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency hosted a "table-top" disaster exercise with some 125 Berkshire County officials from various first-responder agencies.

"The scenario was designed to be a multiagency response using a lot of mutual aid, plans that we have in place, and comprehensive emergency plans that they have across the state," said acting Pittsfield Fire Chief James Sullivan.

"We wanted to have an incident of this magnitude that would require the response of multiple cities, towns and agencies," he said.

The drill was partially funded by $35,000 from federal emergency management officials. Sullivan said the exercise was designed to overwhelm local resources and test the disaster plans that first responders currently have in place. He said certain aspects of the emergency plans need to be updated.

"Every time we have this drill, we learn something," Sullivan said. "I'd be lying to you if I said we didn't learn anything.

"We have our strengths and weaknesses and need to work on things that we need to improve upon. But if an actual incident does occur, we'll be OK."

Yesterday's table-top exercise will be followed by an actual drill that Sullivan said will take place sometime in July.

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