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Nov. 23, 2005

Joint Emergency Response Plan Is Tested in Central Square Train Derailment

CENTRAL SQUARE - The Town of Hastings and the Village of Central Square's joint emergency response plans worked as they should during the CSX train derailment emergency in Central Square last weekend, local officials said.

"Everything went well," said Central Square Fire Company Chief Dennis Hotaling, who served as the incident commander during the emergency. "All of the teams and agencies worked well together. Safety of all personnel and local residents was the highest priority since the call was received at the Oswego County E-911 Center on Saturday," he said.

Hastings Town Supervisor Bruce Rio and Central Square Village Mayor Michael Dixon praised Hotaling and his crew. Both Rio and Dixon relied on the town and village joint comprehensive emergency management plan to put together resources and a plan of action if an evacuation were necessary. "The incident showed that residents have trust in what's being done to protect life and public safety in such an emergency," Rio said.

"It was a team effort," said Dixon. "I'm proud of everybody."

Patricia Egan, director of the Oswego County Emergency Management Office, said the municipal plan specifies how local agencies would work together in a widespread emergency. The plan was developed with assistance from the county Emergency Management Office.

"Many of the agencies involved over the weekend had participated last June in a tabletop exercise of the town and village emergency plan," said Egan.

A CSX freight train hauling 122 cars derailed on the tracks below the US Route 11 bridge at the southern end of the village at about 2:45 p.m. Nov. 19. Of the 28 cars that derailed, six tanks containing hazardous chemicals left the tracks.

The derailment caused no injuries, and emergency response teams determined that four tanks carrying liquid chlorine were not leaking. Two other cars carried sodium hydroxide. A small leak in one sodium hydroxide tank was quickly contained.

Municipal leaders and emergency response teams were concerned as CSX began transferring the chlorine tanks back onto the railroad tracks on Monday. Emergency response personnel remained on the scene until the four tanks were lifted from where they had fallen and placed back on the tracks and moved out of the way.

"Chlorine is an extremely hazardous chemical," said Oswego County Fire Coordinator John Hinds. "The tanks are designed very well to withstand such an accident. But until they were lifted and secured, county and Fulton city hazardous materials teams were prepared to make an emergency entry into the scene."

CSX held several safety meetings with their personnel, contractors, and emergency responders. "The crew that was here was very informative and very helpful," noted Hotaling.

US Route 11 over the tracks was closed from the time of the derailment until Tuesday morning, and Central Square Central School District schools were closed Monday as a precaution.

Central Square Volunteer Fire Company remained lead agency throughout the incident, with assistance from the Brewerton, Hastings, Caughdenoy, and West Monroe volunteer fire departments.

Hinds and Deputy Fire Coordinators Al Heath, Mike Monnat, Dan Dunn, Bill Dark and Randy House assisted Hotaling with information, hands-on assistance and resources. The all-volunteer Oswego County Hazardous Materials Team was on the scene, with assistance from the City of Fulton Fire Department's team. Southern Oswego County Volunteer Ambulance Corps was the lead emergency medical services agency, and received assistance from Northern Oswego County Ambulance Corps, McFee Ambulance, and Oswego County Ambulance Service (Menter's) over the weekend.

The Central Square Police Department provided traffic control throughout the event, assisted on Saturday by the Oswego County Sheriff's Department.

Town of Hastings and Village of Central Square officials opened an emergency operations center in the town hall, and worked closely with Central Square Central Schools, the county Emergency Management Office, and other agencies to plan additional protective actions if they became necessary. Central Square School District Superintendent Dr. Walter Doherty put school resources at the disposal of responders, and worked closely with Hotaling to ensure the students' safety.

"Having done that exercise together a few months earlier helped everything fall into place this weekend. I encourage other departments and municipalities to consider having an exercise of their own," Hotaling said. "Most of us in the fire company had never seen anything like this, but everybody's training and knowledge came through. It was a team effort throughout. I want to thank everyone involved."

State agencies assisting at the scene included the State Police, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Transportation, Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and Emergency Management Office Region IV.

Hotaling also thanked Central Square Fire Company Auxiliary, Wholesale Homes, First Baptist Church, Serio's Auto Repair, Wal-Mart, Central Square Farm and Lawn, and Little Caesar's Pizza for their assistance throughout the weekend. Vern House, Paul House and Bill Avery delivered hay throughout the weekend to assist in the operations.

Hotaling said CSX personnel would meet with the fire company and other agencies for a critique in January.

For more information about emergency planning and response activities, contact the Oswego County Emergency Management Office at 591-9150.

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