MOUNT VERNON — First responders work to be prepared for any situation, and local police officers and firefighters were recently given the opportunity to learn how to safely handle railroad emergencies.
Sgt. Troy Glazier, team leader of the Mount Vernon Police Department Emergency Services Unit, said he approached representatives of the Ohio Central Railway System to see if the railroad would be interested in putting together a safety training for his team, as well as members of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Response Unit and the Mount Vernon Fire Department.
“With our ESU, usually over a year we try to do a terrorism-type scenario,” Glazier explained. “The rest of the year we try to concentrate on barricaded persons and executing search warrants. This was our terrorism scenario for the year.”
He said in the past, ESU has conducted terrorism trainings involving hijacked aircraft or buses. Because the railroad regularly operates in Mount Vernon, Glazier said he came up with the idea to involve trains in this year’s scenario.
Glazier said the railroad was responsive to his inquiry.
“They were really eager to help with whatever we wanted,” he said.
Three Ohio Central Railway System employees, including Trainmaster Tim Slusser, came to Mount Vernon for the training day June 26. They brought a locomotive, tanker car and box car for the training, which lasted about four hours.
About 30 first responders attended the training.
“One of the things I wanted to know was, how do you a stop a train?” Glazier said. “If there is one headed towards a municipality, how would you stop it before it got there?”
He said a train containing hazardous materials headed into town could be stopped before it reached the city limits if first responders know the appropriate actions to take.
Mount Vernon Assistant Fire Chief Chris Menapace was one of 14 MVFD personnel who attended the training.
“What I took out of it was trains are a lot more complicated than you would initially think,” he said.
He said the railroad workers explained how a train could be stopped, how the brakes could be disengaged, and how the cars could be detached from each other.
First responders were shown how to distinguish different types of railroad cars and what they carry by the shape of the car, and the car’s label. MVFD Lt. Chad Christopher said he was impressed with how secure modern-day trains are both inside and out with security measures such as bulletproof windows.
Using flares to signal a passing train can let an engineer know if there is a problem with the train or the track. A universal sign of distress which warrants stopping the train, the first responders learned a flare can be an effective warning device if phone or radio communications are not options.
He and Christopher both said they were impressed to learn railroad cars can be pushed out of the way during an emergency — provided there is a large group on hand to do so.
“Eight to 10 firemen can push an empty train car,” Menapace said.
Glazier said those who attended the training went away armed with information and the practical knowledge to stop a train, if necessary. He said the first responders left the training confident they could assist during a railroad emergency.
Menapace said the opportunity to train with law enforcement was a welcome one for firefighters.
“Anytime law enforcement and firefighters have the opportunity to learn things together, it’s a good thing,” he said. “Law enforcement is our support group and we are their support group, and we know we will be able to rely on each other.”