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Emergency responders prepare for rail disaster

(The following story by Andy Marquis appeared on the News Link Indiana website on June 17.)

MUNCIE, Ind. -- Trains carry nearly every type of freight right through the heart of Muncie every day of the year. Emergency responders spent much of Wednesday preparing for the day when that cargo poses a threat to the community.

Norfolk Southern's rail yard in Muncie hosted members of Delaware County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) on Wednesday for a training session on how to respond to hazardous materials spills.

"Basically, [we talked about] an awareness of what trains carry, how to respond, and basically what to do, you know, when you get there, to save lives and property," EMA's David LePoris said.

Members of the Muncie police and fire departments, EMS and Yorktown Fire Department participated in the training.

Jay Dotson works at Ball Memorial Hospital as a security guard but also as serves as a police reserve officer. He saw the training as relevant and reassuring for those scared by the potential of a hazardous material spill.

"A lot of policemen were always speaking about the fact that, what would we do if a train derailed and there was a tanker full of chemicals; so I thought coming out here today would be preparing me better for that event," Dotson said.

There have been no hazardous materials spills by Norfolk Southern in the area recently. There was one derailment in the last year at Elwood.

Bill Herald is the assistant train master with Norfolk Southern and said spills are very rare. But he also said that hazardous materials pass through the rail yard frequently.

"There are about 25 to 30 trains that pass through here each day," Herald said. "And about 70-80 percent contain hazardous materials."

Some common hazardous materials include anhydrous ammonia and propane.

Tom Davis is the assistant manager of hazardous materials for Norfolk Southern and was on hand for the training. He instructed the emergency officials to communicate both with each other and with hazardous materials experts in the case of an emergency.

"If we have an incident involving hazardous materials on these rails, a lot of people are going to show up," Davis said.

Davis added that emergency workers should always refer to their Emergency Response Guidebook and railroad paperwork that tells them which train cars are carrying which hazardous materials.

Friday, June 18, 2004

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