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First Responders Train for Chemical Accidents on Railways

Police officers, firefighters and other public safety officials from all over the region went to school Friday to learn how to deal with railway accidents involving hazardous chemicals.

In rail cars converted to classrooms and tank cars outfitted for demonstrations, Norfolk Southern, along with chemical and railway experts from across the country, taught first-responders how to recognize tanks carrying dangerous chemicals, how to protect themselves, and ways to respond to emergencies. The event was organized by Norfolk Southern.

More than 140 people attended the training, held at Norfolk Southern’s downtown railyard in Columbus. Agencies from Columbus, Phenix City, Russell County and even Macon were represented.

Chief Jeff Meyer of the Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services said much of what was being taught at the event was a refresher, and that it would enhance the training that his staff already gets. Between 30 and 35 Columbus fire and EMS personnel attended.

Depending on the magnitude of an accident, Columbus might call on other communities for help, Meyer said, but his department would be effective in its response to a hazardous-material emergency.

Nonetheless, he said, practice makes perfect.

“We want to be prepared in the event that something does happen,” he said.

Columbus was the last stop on the train’s 350-mile journey, which began four days earlier in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Firefighters and other students huddled around an expert offering lessons on protective gear. Down a few cars was a demonstration tank used to teach first responders how to identify when a tank is carrying dangerous substances.

“In the event there is a hazardous material spill, this kind of training is going to allow emergency responders to have the skills to respond more quickly and to protect their community,” said Susan Terpay of Norfolk Southern.

Columbus firefighter Travis Brown said the classes were good to keep old training from getting rusty.

Sgt. Joe Gary of the Phenix City Police Department said the classes would make it easier to recognize tanks carrying hazardous material.

“It’ll help,” he said.

Contact Brian McDearmon at 706-571-8543