ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Did you know that anywhere from 40 to 70 trains can go through the Key City in an 24-hour period and almost all of them carry hazardous material of one form or another?
In light of the recent train derailments in Ohio and another in Texas, KTAB/KRBC spoke with Abilene’s Deputy Fire Chief to see what plans are in place if such a disaster happens here in the Key City.
According to Deputy Chief Michael Burden, these trains are carrying “everything under the sun.”
“Thousands of different chemicals… High pressurized gases, you can have cryogenics, you can have just cargo trains hauling cars,” Burden explained.
Even though a severe trail derailment is unlikely, Burden said it would not be the first one in Abilene.
“I’ve been here 30 years and only know of a handful of train derailments,” Burden explained.
There was a train derailment in Abilene in 2005 and another in 2017.
“We will respond with our first responders, but we will also respond with our hazardous materials team,” said Burden.
Depending on what placard the train car displays, which shows if there is hazardous material or not, firemen know if evacuation is necessary. Derailment response plans are in place at Abilene ISD as well, according to the director of school security, Tony Lassetter.
“The idea is limited exposure to airborne chemicals and substances,” Lassetter read from the emergency plan.
The board of trustees recently discussed updated board policies from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), someone the board receives at least once a year, sometimes more. In the recent policy updates from December, TASB recommends that every school within 1,000 yards of the train tracks have a plan in place. This is something that AISD has had for years.
“We have trucks that are traveling through with hazardous material, so every campus, not just those ones close to a railroad, need to be ready for a hazardous spill,” Lassetter explained.
Faculty at AISD are prepared to shut off the HVAC system and seal the windows and doors if hazardous material is outside. If they are told to evacuate, there are predetermined locations to move to.
These plans are set in place before an emergency, which Burden said is most important.
“Prepare yourself. Have a go-bag and have a plan,” Burden recommended.
Burden explained another way citizens can prepare is by signing up for ‘Code Red,’ a community notification program that will alert residents for hazardous conditions such as evacuations, boil water notices and more.