Train disaster drill tests responder readiness
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent May 31, 2014 12:18PM
Porter Fire Dept. responders Angel Craig (left) and Stephen Garpow evacuate volunteer victim Tristan DeFord of Valparaiso, Ind., during a mock accident between a South Shore passenger and freight train held in Chesterton, Ind., Saturday, May 31, 2014. The training exercise gave local emergency crews the chance to familiarize themselves with South Shore passenger cars, as well as the opportunity to rehearse triage operations at a large-scale disaster. | Guy Rhodes/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2014 6:27AM
PORTER — In full firefighter gear, Angel Craig climbed onto a South Shore passenger car during a drill Saturday and tried to assess the damage following the head-on collision between a freight train and the passenger train.
“How severe is it?” another firefighter asked. “Walking wounded? Or what do we have?”
A few passenger cars away, fellow firefighter Brian Anderson stared into a woman’s eyes as she held her left arm, appearing bloodied and bruised.
“Are you breathing?” he asked her loudly, examining her arm and trying to determine if she suffered a concussion in the mock wreck. “Does it hurt anywhere else?”
The Porter Fire and Liberty Township volunteer departments, along with EMTs from Portage Hospital, swooped into a tiny area tucked between Mineral Springs and Waverly roads for a disaster response exercise organized by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, or NICTD, the agency that runs the South Shore freight and commuter lines.
It is critical training for the railroad, which runs about 70 miles between South Bend and Chicago, said NICTD public information officer John Parsons.
“We pass through a lot of communities, so it’s really important for the first responding agencies to be familiar with our cars,” Parsons said. “What are they going to encounter when they get here? How are you going get into a railcar in this type of environment?”
The departments trained for the mock disaster with classroom and hands-on training, learning how to get into and maneuver around passenger cars in a disaster, said Jeremy Spargur, chaplain and safety officer for Porter Fire Department.
Hopefully, today, (emergency personnel will) express what they got out of it and what they think we need to improve on,” he said. “It’ll better our department as a whole to better ourselves for emergencies like this.”
At least one passenger was “killed” in the exercise, as was the freight train engineer, who wandered into nearby woods after the accident. Firefighter Jay Craig and search-and-rescue dog Harley searched for the engineer, who, in the scenario, would be another fatality.
The injured were taken to Portage Hospital after firefighters performed triage.
NICTD transportation superintendent Jay Goodrich watched as David Timmons, NICTD’s manager of safety rules and training and coordinator of the exercise, paced across the ballast at the incident scene, clipboard in hand, taking notes and planning his debriefing.
Timmons said a full report will be completed in a few weeks.
South Shore trains rolled by on occasion, filled with passengers peering out of their windows at the scene.
“For the community, we want to let them know we operate a reliable operation, a safe operation,” Goodrich said, watching a passing train. “Our people, they’re continuously getting tested on it throughout the year.
“It also lets us know where our weaknesses are as much as the fire department’s. The faster you get this training in place, the more you can help people.”