Protecting yourself during a haz-mat railroad disaster - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

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Railroad accidents can lead to larger safety hazards

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Ever wonder what's inside those train cars traveling through your town and across your roads?

The truth is, they carry everything from the general household items you buy at the store to hazardous materials like liquefied chlorine gas, potassium chloride or sulfuric acid, just to name a few.

You wouldn't know by looking, because only the railroads are required to keep tabs on what the cars contain.

In an accident like a collision, a derailment, or a fire, even emergency crews have to do some quick haz-mat research before rushing in to respond.

"You're talking 20,000 to 40,000 gallons of product. So you can see the magnitude of each car is much, much larger," said Deputy Chief Jeff Dulin with the Charlotte Fire Department in North Carolina.

To figure out what's inside, haz-mat teams have to match information from the emergency response guidebook to the placards on the train cars.

"Placards tell us the reactivity of what's being carried on that car, the health hazards, the flammability, and any kind of reactivity that that product might have," said Dulin.

Responders look at what direction the wind is blowing to see which homes and buildings are in the path of leaking chemicals.

According to Dulin, "Most of the time, when there's a train derailment, people in the neighborhood might not even know it."

If you do know and are outside, walk into the wind to keep hazardous materials and any plume behind you.

Whatever you do, don't go "check out" the scene.

Dulin said, "That just delays our response and our ability to get people back if we need to."

If you need to evacuate, wait for direction on which way to go from first responders.

Emergency management will use local TV and radio to alert residents and they'll go door-to-door.  This is why it's critical for seniors and anyone disabled to notify their fire department about their needs and limitations before an emergency ever happens.

"If we're going to do an evacuation, [tell us] that we don't need to start at the end of the street and start evacuating people, we need to go to the third house on the left and Mrs. Smith who's in a wheel chair, we can go get her first," said Dulin.

With hundreds of thousands of pounds of metal and materials chugging their way through neighborhoods across the U.S., understanding the risks of a railroad emergency and how to get away from any danger keeps you and your family on the safe side of the tracks.

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