“Uhhhhh….this train has derailed….”

This was an interesting day.

I was sitting in my office when I heard one of my Squads (rescue units) get dispatched on a “vehicle that has been hit by train.” That was it. All the info they had. So they only sent ONE truck.

Something didn’t sit well with me. Probably from years of experience with “WTF? This isn’t what they said!”  So I told the dispatcher to send an extrication response, which includes an engine company and 2 rescue squads. You can always cancel your resources! 

As I got in my truck and began responding, I heard my always calm Captain arrive on the scene and say that a roll-back truck had been hit by a train. They were having to access what was left of the cab that had landed down in a small ravine. He would give a further report asap.

Well, 5 seconds later I heard “Um….dispatch…this train has derailed”. Calm as always with a hint of “Oh shit”. (Always know your people. Hahahaha!!)

I arrived on the scene to find a cluster of train. Two engineers literally popped up out of no where with some minor injuries. Scared the hell out of me! They told us that at least 12 cars had derailed along with the two locomotives. Their locomotive and gone airborne and done an complete 180. 

Meanwhile my squad crew had accessed the truck driver. He was alive and only slightly injured. He was even able to self-extricate. Honestly, his truck cab literally looked a Pokemon ball. Can you imagine seeing that thing flying through the air? Bahahahaha!

As soon as it was determined that everyone was alive and there were no hazardous railcars to deal with, we sat back and let the railroad company do their thing.  You see, I’m not a train expert. So I just got my guys out of the way and told the guy who I thought was in charge of  the 100+ railroad employees who came out of nowhere, that if he needed anything to let me know. I’d be standing around watching the show.

There hadn’t been a train derailment in all my time in the fire service until that day. Talk about “fly by the seat of your pants”. But even “fly by the seat of your pants” has a method. A method I have developed for myself. It is as follows:

  • Slow down.
  •  Take a deep breath…or 10.
  • Get your pen and paper…if you even have a pen.
  • Use “full-court” vision… something I learned playing basketball.
  •  Triage the issues.
  •  Focus on safety.
  •  Focus on accountability. 
  • Use your resources, get them started asap, and cancel accordingly.
  • Don’t get in the way of the experts…you don’t know everything.
  • Work as a team but remember you are the boss…just don’t say that out loud to a bunch of men unless absolutely necessary. Hahaha! 

Sometimes the list isn’t in that order. Sometimes I have to go back to “slow down and deep breath”…often. And sometimes I’ve had to say  “I’m in command, not you”…or as one guy I used to work with called it “flex my chest muscles”. (Yes, he actually called it that. Lol!) 

These type of incidents are fun. Until you start to think about all the horrible shit that could have happened instead. Like the Ethanol Oxide tank car errupting. The truck driver or engineers needing heavy extrication or recovery. The train hitting the propane tanks that were directly down the hill below them. The train having derailed in a residential area. 

So many hideous possibilities. 

My main thoughts that day and still to this day are “What the fuck was the truck driver thinking?” and “Holy shit what a ride those engineers took!”. Can you imagine being those guys??  Knowing you were off the track, yet running smoothly and in the process of stopping…Only to see a track change coming??? 

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