MT. JULIET, Tenn. (WKRN) – May 4th is International Firefighters Day. To celebrate, News 2 visited the Mt. Juliet Fire Department, bringing breakfast to the firefighters at Station 1.
In March, they were the first responders to the train derailment in Mt. Juliet that occurred right across the street from Mt. Juliet Elementary. Had an explosion occurred or toxic chemicals escaped from any of the damaged cars, it could have been a terrible tragedy.
News 2 spoke with Fire Chief Jamie Luffman about how they handled that situation, and what they do to prepare for the potential of hazardous materials being leaked into the environment.
“When I got on the scene, we got together and I said, we’re going to shelter in place, shut off the HVAC system, get the windows closed, keep the kids all together and calm, and we’ll see what we’ve got,” Chief Luffman said. “And as soon as we can get them out of here, we will.”
Luckily, there was only one propane tanker car that was empty, just containing propane residue. But the situation could have been much worse. What if there had been deadly chlorine gas or some other toxic chemical leaking from the tanker car? How do first responders make the split-second decisions it takes to save lives?
It all starts with an emergency response guidebook.
“It is for the initial phase of a hazardous material spill,” Chief Luffman explained. “If you start off an event, an incident, and you’re making good sound decisions in the first five minutes you have a better chance of mitigating that successfully.”
“It starts right off with the heavy hitters of explosion, gasses, and flammable liquids,” Luffman said. “Then it gives us an idea of our labels that we’ll see. You see these also on freight trucks running up and down the interstate. It gives us the rail car identification chart. This is what we are looking for.”
So, how often do hazardous materials travel through our cities and highly populated areas?
“Every day that ends in ‘y’! They’re running up and down the road right now,” Luffman exclaimed. “They’re going to be on-loading and offloading on the rail system here. Yeah, every day.”
That’s a scary thought. But it’s good to know that our first responders are highly trained to deal with these types of situations.