May 16, 2021 a train derailed and burst into flames on the south side of Sibley, IA. My department, along with many others from the area were called for mutual aid. As I left Sheldon over 16 miles away, I could see the black column of smoke! This is one of those calls we hope we never get in our community! The actions you choose to take could quickly result in either saving or loosing lives! As you begin to gather information you must immediately begin to make decisions. The Sibley Fire Department and all first responders did an amazing job and I want to be certain all that read this understand that! When faced with this challenge you want to identify the correct plan of action. You must identify what the situation is.
As units arrived on scene it was evident that a derailment had occurred and there was a fire with a release of smoke (fumes). Tankers, hopper cars, as well as box cars were visible in the carnage. At this time this is an unknown cargo and you immediately go to the Emergency Response Guidebook, Guide number 111. This is for Mixed Load/Unidentified Cargo. This called for an initial evacuation of ½ mile. We quickly moved this to 1 mile when we were informed ammonium nitrate was in the mix.
For the emergency responders, evacuation to move away from the scene was quick. For the public this is a challenge. This is what I would ask all of you to now consider as your challenge for training this month. Take some time to set up a tabletop exercise in your station. Have a train derailment or tanker truck accident in your town. Establish your initial response based on evacuation. If you choose to have a vapor cloud instead of an explosion, better yet. How will you get your public out of harm’s way? Will you need to consider a shelter in place approach if you are unable to get people out in time. Work hard at this. With the professionalism that the Sibley Emergency Services showed in this moment of decision, lives were saved!
Upon completion, the department should be able to….
• Identify possible hazards of derailment or vehicle accidents.
• Utilize the Emergency Response Guidebook to determine the course of action needed for the initial response.
• Establish an incident command system for the tabletop exercise.
• Develop a strategy to inform the public of the need to evacuate.
• Determine how your department will secure the evacuated area.
• Identify challenges for evacuation such as elderly individuals.
Scott Meinecke is a member of the Sheldon and Granger Volunteer Fire Departments, Director of Safety for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, and field staff for the Fire Service Training Bureau. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com