Emergency responders train on dealing with rail accidents

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Every day, trains pass through South Mississippi carrying thousands of gallons of hazardous materials. Jackson County emergency responders said if there is ever a rail accident, they want to know exactly how to deal with it because that can save lives. Thursday they held a training exercise simulating a train accident.

Chris Mackenberg is the Manager of Hazardous Materials for CSX. He explained the scenario of the drill.

"The engineer has had a heart attack and he's in the locomotive. The conductor is near the train tracks, and we also have a victim at the local warehouse," said Mackenberg.

Along with injuries, three of the rail cars are leaking toxic chemicals.

"The chlorine and anhydrous ammonia is an inhalation hazard so it would affect your breathing, and the sodium hydroxide is an acid, a corrosive," Mackenberg said.

Firefighters, law enforcement officers and ambulance workers from across Jackson County participated in the drill. Their first objective was to rescue the victims. They also had to stop the leaks and keep sightseers away. Participants said the experience was eye opening.

"More experience in the suit. The suit is the critical part of all this, because it's added on to the heat and the exposure," firefighter Steve Coyle said.

With so much heavy rail traffic in Jackson County, officials said there is a high risk of accidents. They said emergency workers need to be aware of the dangers they may face while responding.

"Trains weigh hundreds of tons. They can injure or kill very easily when trains are moving," said Earl Etheridge, Jackson County Emergency Services Director. "These guys have to think more than they would for just a normal transportation incident like a truck wreck or a car wreck or even a house fire."

Since rail cars can carry up to 30,000 gallons of toxic materials, officials said a leak could make evacuations of the surrounding area necessary.

"Of course, the number one thing is to save lives, and then we would concentrate on property, etcetera. Our number one goal here would be to save lives," said Shane Langfitt, of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

CSX and Mississippi Export Railroad assisted the emergency responders in the training.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.