Emergency Responders Worry About Derailment

A train derailment near Hattiesburg Thursday morning provides a very real reminder about the potential danger that exists with active railroad tracks anywhere.

CSX cuts through the heart of Ocean Springs. A railroad that's so close to so many homes and schools and businesses is often taken for granted.

"Then you hear of something happening like in Hattiesburg and it brings it to your mind again. Like, oh man, that would happen here. And what are we gonna do?" says Ocean Springs assistant fire chief Pat Williams.

Ocean Springs' central fire station is located right along the tracks. The assistant chief admits that all the training in the world may not prepare his 33 man crew.

"As much as we train and as much as we prepare, if a major, major train derailment happened, we would be lost. Yes, greatly overwhelmed," he admits.

"This is our Haz-Mat trailer. This is where we stow most of our Haz-Mat equipment that's not weather sensitive," said T.J. Johnson, an Ocean Springs firefighter who's trained to handle hazardous materials accidents.

The emergency response trailer is one of three countywide. It would be used in the event of a derailment. The biggest concern is simple.

"Getting people out of harm's way," said Johnson, "These railroad tracks run through a lot of neighborhood and busy intersections. Highway 90 is within 100 or 150 foot of it most of the way."

Just over ten years ago, a leak in a CSX tanker car forced a late night evacuation of the Lover's Lane neighborhood in Ocean Springs. Fortunately, that leak was brought under control and those residents were allowed to return to their homes in about four hours.

The ERG, Emergency Response Guidebook, helps emergency crews determine what chemicals are involved and how to respond.

"It would tell you want your hazards are, what your initial isolations should be," said Johnson.

"Preparation and being ready is real important. That's one of the hardest things you have to do. You can hope to be prepared for the worst, but you never know," he said.

Ocean Springs has several firefighters with Haz-Mat training. If an accident should occur, the city would also receive emergency assistance from a countywide response team.