BELLEVUE, Ohio — Facing ongoing criticism over a toxic train derailment that happened nearly two months ago in East Palestine, Norfolk Southern offered the first in a series of safety training sessions Tuesday for first responders across Ohio and beyond.
During Tuesday’s training session at an existing Norfolk Southern railyard in Bellevue, firefighters and other emergency management personnel from across the state got an up-close experience learning about tank cars, different valve fittings, the components of a locomotive and the AskRail app which the rail industry says can be used to help first responders learn what’s being hauled in the event of an emergency.
Norfolk Southern has promised to develop a more permanent training facility in Ohio but an exact timeline and location have not been selected.
Given that these trainings are commonplace in the industry, 10 Investigates asked if today’s event – which was open to reporters – was more optics meant to show they’re working with firefighters?
A Norfolk Southern spokesman, Connor Spielmaker, denied that this was a stunt.
10 Investigates also asked if first responders were taught worst-case scenario things given that some of valve fittings melted during the East Palestine derailment and there was confusion over what was in the tank cars because the diamond placards had melted.
Spielmaker said: “Yes. So the training is meant to be a training. It’s not a stunt. We want to get these guys out here to learn what could happen on the railroad and how to respond to it. We go through a number of different scenarios with regard to East Palestine we continue to work with NTSB, The FRA to identify what we can do to make NS and even safer railroad.”
The NTSB has launched a special investigation in wake of the East Palestine derailment, and other incidents in the state, and has raised concerns about what happened during the February 3 derailment which spilled hazardous chemicals including vinyl chloride. A controlled burn of rail cars – meant to prevent a catastrophic explosion – also drew concern from first responders, according to testimony given during a U.S. Senate hearing earlier this month.
Deputy Chief Rick Gorby with the East Palestine Fire Department was hesitant to discuss the events of derailment with reporters, but did say he didn’t think having the AskRail app available would’ve made a difference.
“It was just too big of a mess,” Gorby told 10 Investigates. “We knew what we had pretty quickly. That’s when we backed off.”
Gorby said he found Tueday’s training to valuable and that other fire departments should attend.
“We learned a lot here.. I didn’t know the differences between the valves. I had a decent education. I just hope I never have to do it again,” he said.
But Gorby also stopped short of saying that the lessons he learned during the safety training would’ve helped his department during the derailment.
“It was whole different situation on February 3rd. We wouldn’t be able to do what we did today,” he said.
When asked if it would’ve been helpful to have the manifest beforehand, he said he didn’t want to talk specifics about the derailment.
U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance are expected to voice support for their bi-partisan rail safety legislation this week. The bill calls for tougher rail safety regulations including federal mandates for things like advanced notification for first responders.