SHELL ROCK, Iowa – The Department of Transportation is announcing big steps to improve the safety of America’s railways. That’s especially true when it comes to trains that transport hazardous chemicals, like ethanol.
Last year, flooding caused a train carrying ethanol to derail near Charles City, spilling thousands of gallons of the chemical. That situation ended better than others. According to the DOT, from 2006 to 2012, there were seven train derailments in which tank cars carrying ethanol ruptured. Spectacular fires were left for emergency responders to put out. Iowa is the nation’s leading producer of ethanol, so local emergency crews do their best to train for these types of emergencies.
On Tuesday, Butler county emergency crews gathered in Shell Rock at the scene of a car and ethanol tanker collision. Thankfully though, it was only a drill.
“It doesn’t make any difference if you’re talking about ethanol, or if you’re talking about a tornado, or if you’re talking about a serious fire. The emergency responders need to be prepared for it,” says Butler County Emergency Coordinator, Mitch Nordmeyer.
He says the dangers of transporting ethanol are very real.
“People see it going up and down, all over the state of Iowa on rail cars. They see it being transported in production facilities. It’s a flammable liquid, and you need to know how to handle it,” says Mitch.
One local fire chief agrees. He says a lot of it is getting to know their role in situations like these.
“It’s a countywide exercise. All of the departments come and train together in case we do have a big incident like this. That way we know each other, and know what is required of us,” says Green Fire Chief Neal Nordmeyer.
This isn’t the kind of education first responders can get in the classroom, but it’s a whole lot more beneficial.
“You can always learn more from hands-on training. You know what the tools are, you know what you’ve got for equipment. You can always read it in a book, but until you actually live it, you don’t know what the training is all about,” says Neal.
And you can’t practice these types of things every day.
“They’ll practice vehicle extrication; removing a patient, all of that kind of stuff. We will just see how everyone handles it,” says Mitch.
Once the scene is “secure”, and the departments has time to debrief, Mitch says, the efforts pay off.
“It looks like it was a good learning experience. We accomplished most of the objectives that we had set for tonight. It looks like everybody did a good job,” says Mitch.
With this type of training, emergency crews have a little more experience under their belt, if, something like there were to ever occur. Butler County holds one of these drills every year using different scenarios.