(The Center Square) – Norfolk Southern will create a new first responder training center in Ohio and expand its Operation Awareness and Response Program, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday.
DeWine pushed the rail company for a greater emphasis on rural first responder training following the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Toxic chemicals released as a result of the crash have caused concerns for the air, water and ground; testing thus far, according to government officials, has yet to show dangerous levels of chemicals.
“The derailment in East Palestine made clear that ensuring first responders are prepared for disasters involving hazardous materials is vitally important to the safety of communities,” DeWine said. “Often first responders are volunteers, and their need to have the most up-to-date training and equipment is essential. Today’s commitment by Norfolk Southern is an important next step in the company’s commitment to make the citizens of Ohio and of East Palestine whole after the recent derailment, a commitment Ohio will continue to monitor closely.”
The new center, according to DeWine, will focus on providing more and free training for first responders in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
No decision has been made on the center’s location. Until one is found, training will begin March 22 at Norfolk Southern’s Moorman Yard in Bellevue, Ohio, a small town in north central Ohio more than two hours northwest of East Palestine.
Norfolk Southern’s awareness and response program was originally created to connect first responders with the company more easily in Norfolk Southern communities. Four of the 12 scheduled stops for the program in 2023 will be in Ohio. First responders get hands-on training in the program’s safety train, which includes a dedicated locomotive, specially equipped classroom box cars, and several tank cars.
It also provides training on the AskRail mobile app that enables first responders to use their mobile phones to look up commodity and response information on rail shipments.
Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw said, “These commitments are the direct result of my conversations with Governor DeWine and other leaders, all to better support our first responders and their communities. First responders are often immediately on the scene of a rail incident and we want to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to work safely and effectively to protect the health and safety of their fellow citizens.”
— J.D. Davidson