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Local firefighters head to Colorado for training

Furthering his training and being able to inform other members of his fire department is part of Jeff Croes' job as the Deer Park Fire Department training officer.

Croes was among a group of area fire deptartment members, Union Pacific mechanic, and environmental company employees who met May 1-6 to discuss how to better deal with the short-and long-term aftermath of train derailments.

Josh Hecht, of the Somerset Fire/Rescue Department, and Mike Spencer, of Hudson Fire, were also members of the group that traveled to Pueblo, Colo. for Tank Car Emergency Response Training at the American Railroad's Transportation Technology Center.

The five-day, 40-hour course was held at the Association of American Railroad's Transportation Technology Center. Union Pacific covered all the attendees' expenses, with no cost being incurred by the communities or organizations.

This training was sponsored following a class at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College-New Richmond offered by the Union Pacific and Canadian National Railroads held in March.

Croes, Hecht and Spencer volunteered for the training as few have gone from this area in the past.

Croes said it's important to further educate his own department members on how to deal with a derailment situation and to be able to inform incoming Hazmat teams coming to the scene.

"With the fire industry being not just fighting fires anymore, you are better to be over-educated than under educated," he said.

The basis of this training was for people to understand that trains "don't have steering wheels, which most people don't understand," Croes explained. "A train is on a track and can only go there, it can't swerve to miss an accident on the rail road line. If there is something there, it will hit it."

The participants were told that train time is anytime. Trains are unable to stop for anything, including emergency vehicles, and the railroad has the right-of-way. Trains can be a half mile to a mile long and if it utilizes its emergency stop option, it can take one or two miles for them to come to a stop. And when they go into the emergency stop, they run the risk of a 50/50 chance of possible derailment.

Croes applied for the training at the end of March and within a week received information that he had been selected to attend the training. Sixty percent of the class is hands-on work with rail cars and learning about the workings of the cars.

"The neatest thing about the training was the final practical test," Croes said.

The test involved 32 derailed cars that the center placed on a mile-long railroad track on the property. The cars were set up to simulate a real derailment with leaking fluids and vapors. There were also pyrotechnics that exploded, which created a realistic derailment situation.

"To most people the railway is unknown and not a lot of people understand it," Croes said. "It was a chance to get an in-depth look into a tank car and learn what's involved with it and how to work with it."

Students received classroom training on a variety of safety subjects, as well as how to identify tank car types, fittings and construction during an emergency. The course provided experience in using resource materials, assessing tank car damage, making repairs, transferring hazardous materials from damaged equipment and using protective clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus.

When most derailments occur, trains are usually back on those tracks within 12-24 hours because it costs the railway nearly a million dollars for each hour that the tracks are closed.

The reasoning behind the railways wanting fire departments to take this course is because local departments are often the first response to an emergency situation, Croes noted. It may take a railway representative a few hours to get to the scene.

"By having members trained to deal with a derailment, it is an effective way to have them judge the situation and be able to inform the railway prior to arrival so that the railways are down for the shortest amount of time possible," Croes explained.

The members of local departments that attended this training are now classified as a "Tank Car Specialist Advanced."