East Freedom simulating train accident, spill

It’s going to be one thing after another on Saturday morning for local emergency responders.

During a drill at the Freedom Township Firehall in East Freedom, the responders will be notified of a train and vehicle crashing on Route 36 in McKee, causing the train to derail.

Then they’ll hear about a chemical spill, from the train or vehicle, requiring them to close Route 36 and reroute traffic while also taking steps to identify the chemical and keep it out of Halter Creek.

“And there may be a fire somewhere too,” Blair County Emergency Management Agency Director Dan Boyles said Thursday. “We’re probably looking at three to four major events to address at the same time.”

About 85 emergency responders and municipal leaders are signed up for Saturday’s event, coordinated by Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response.

It’s a national organization of volunteers who travel throughout the nation to help communities prepare for an emergency involving the transportation of hazardous materials.

“They were in and took pictures of where the incidents are going to occur,” Boyles said. “They’ll be ready with a scenario that is really going to cripple transportation there.”

Freedom Township Secretary Suzanne Claycomb said she’ll be at the training session with other township leaders. As a group, they’ll be viewed as the closest emergency responders to the train derailment.

“It’s going to be a challenge to see what comes up in front of us and to see what we have to do to handle it,” Claycomb said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”

Boyles said the drill will require the participants to work with each other in a way that addresses not only what’s happening at the crash site but also in the areas outside the crash site.

They’ll need to make sure ambulance crews can get through to transport the injured and that assistance is available for motorists stranded by closed roads, Boyles said.

The simulated events are scheduled to wrap up by lunch, followed by an evaluation.

Local responders and their communities benefits from this kind of training, Boyles said, because it helps them recognize what needs to be done in the event of a similar incident, and it helps them recognize what resources may or may not be available.

During Saturday’s drill, for instance, the train derailment might occur during peak travel hours for Route 36, when some responders would be on their way to work. That will mean the fire company responds with smaller crews, Boyles said.

While Blair County used to identify flooding as its biggest threat, that has since been replaced by hazardous materials, either stored or being transported, according to the county’s current hazard mitigation plan.

Other threats include high winds, winter storms, tropical storms and microbursts.