Ohio to Invest in Train Derailment Training for Small First Responder Departments

The state of Ohio intends to invest almost $1 million on training small, rural first-responder teams to respond to train derailments.

On March 1st, Governor Mike DeWine announced that he had discussed the necessity of more extensive train derailment response training for first responders with the CEOs of both Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads.

DeWine announced the plan one month after an Ohio-Pennsylvania border derailment involving a Norfolk Southern train hauling hazardous goods in East Palestine, Ohio.

“Making sure our first responders have relevant training for hazardous incidents is critical, and the recent derailment disaster in East Palestine had put a focus on this issue,” DeWine said.

On February 3rd 50 train carriages, 10 of which were carrying hazardous materials, derailed as a result of a technical problem with a rail car axle, according to federal authorities. There was vinyl chloride in five of the vehicles. Hundreds of residents evacuated as a result of the controlled release of poisonous gasses that Norfolk Southern carried out on February 6th to stop an explosion.

Officials told East Palestine residents on February 8th that they could safely go home, despite the reports of hundreds of dead fish in the Ohio river near East Palestine and residents complaining of headaches and illness since the derailment.

According to DeWine, volunteer firefighters are most likely to be on the scene of a train derailment first because the majority of rail miles in Ohio are located in rural areas. However, DeWine said that there is currently a shortage of volunteer training on how to respond to trail derailments.

“Most of the rail miles are in rural areas. The reality is in most places, volunteer firefighters are most likely there first. The fact and need to have them trained and the railroad to be part of the training is a big goal of mine,” DeWine said.

The CEOs of both railroads agreed to collaborate with the state of Ohio to boost first responders’ training in railroad-specific procedures, according to DeWine.

DeWine disclosed that the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) currently has grant funding of up to $800,000 available to assist Ohio’s smaller fire departments in paying for vitally necessary training. PUCO opened the grant process for the training late in the day on March 2nd.

“These PUCO grants for training in responding to hazardous material incidents will help be a part of the solution to ensure Ohio first responders have everything they need to be ready,” DeWine said.

Some examples of the training funded by the program include:

  • Courses involving hazardous materials training on various levels, including first response awareness, operations and technician, highway response specialist, incident command and tank car specialist
  • Inter-modal hazardous materials training
  • Incident response exercise
  • Rail hazardous materials response training, including rail/highway incident response training
  • Hazardous materials planning and survey studies

DeWine stated that the grant money is obtained through fines paid by shippers and carriers of hazardous materials.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the state of Ohio has 1,134 registered fire departments meaning each department would receive approximately $705.00 apiece if they all applied for the grant.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in East Palestine, Ohio” by U.S. EPA.


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