MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLNS) – Meridian Township officials asked first responders on Tuesday what their emergency plans are in the event of a dangerous train derailment.
Last month, a train derailed near East Palestine, Ohio.
Thirty-eight rail cars, including 11 with hazardous materials, went off the tracks, forcing hundreds of people living nearby to evacuate for several days.
The township’s fire chief said that while the chances for an East Palestine-level train derailment are very low, teamwork between first responders across mid-Michigan could be called in if the worst were to come to their doorstep.
Public safety leaders broke down the response, evacuation, and prevention plans. Fire Chief Michael Hamel said the first step is understanding the risks.
“It’s really looking at our vulnerability here. We have two tracks that separate the township into three sections,” he said. “What’s important to know is that about 99.9% of the chemicals that are on the road by train get to their destination. It’s that 0.1% like Palestine.”
He said knowing what’s on board can determine how to treat the derailment. It’s also important to understand the types of rail cars, what cargo signs mean, and to have good communication between train companies and first responders. All of this will make it easier to keep people safe.
Hamel said both firefighters and police officers have access to an emergency guidebook, and depending on the chemicals being hauled, they can determine how big an evacuation area would need to be.
His department won’t be alone in the fight. The state’s mutual aid association and the Metro-Hazmat team can bring in more emergency teams from around Michigan within hours.
“It really wouldn’t matter what community it happens in. If you have something like Palestine, it’s going to be a big deal,” Hamel said.
Everyone can help play a role in preventing these types of derailments. Chief Hamel said not to try to outdrive a train and pay close attention to crossing gates and whenever you’re driving over railroad tracks.