First Responders Better Prepared, Thanks To Operation Lifesaver

Harrison County is the third deadliest county in the nation when it comes to railroad fatalities. From 1997 until October of 2003, 24 people were killed in accidents involving trains. First responders are usually the first to work these scenes, as well as other catastrophes on railways.

Now some of South Mississippi's first responders are sure to be more prepared when working accidents and collisions on and near the tracks, thanks to Mississippi's Operation Lifesaver Program.

About a dozen first responders watched footage from a railway accident that happened in Ventura, County, California.

"What if we had a situation like that occur and shut down I-10. Where does this traffic go?," asked Allen Pepper of the Kansas City Southern Railway Corp.

That was one of many questions South Mississippi first responders pondered as they reviewed railway accident footage as part of the Operation Lifesaver program.

Program leaders hope this classroom instruction will help sharpen first responders' skills when it comes to working railroad accidents and collisions in South Mississippi. But Operation Lifesaver goes beyond the classroom.

"Remember out in California, where the train was going down the tracks, and smoke was going out from the wheels? That was this part of the car right here. It failed," said instructor Wayne Barfield, as he pointed to a part of a 911 tank car.

The demonstration provided hands-on training for first responders.

"It took us over a year to get this tank car here in South Mississippi, in Gulfport. It goes all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, and it's used for educational purposes," said Donna Prince, a coordinator of Operation Lifesaver, "so that we can have the people first on the scene whether it's a derailment or accident, to also be safe around the railroad tracks."

During this one-day program, first responders loaded up on knowledge--knowledge and training that may one day save the lives of others, as well as their own.

First responders also received training in homeland security and instruction in handling sabotage on railways. On Wednesday, some members of local law enforcement will get training from the program.