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First Responders Test Disaster Skills in Southern Ill.

The mock disaster was a collision between a freight train and a black Ford truck full of passengers. The accident began with the train derailing and leaking hazardous chemicals across Jackson County.

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(TNS) - Miles of railroad tracks run through Southern Illinois, bringing passenger and freight trains.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a train-car accident?

That was the setting for a mock disaster Tuesday morning used to train departments across Jackson County.

The mock disaster was a collision between a freight train and a black Ford truck full of passengers. The accident began with the train derailing and leaking hazardous chemicals.

The east side of the train tracks at East College Street was littered with victims of the fake crash. Two adults did not survive the accident. A child also was laying on the sidewalk near the train tracks.

The child (a training dummy) was taken from the sidewalk by a Carbondale firefighter and rinsed with water in the middle of East College Street to decontaminate him. The child was taken to a triage area by the firefighter to receive care from Jackson County Ambulance Service.

The triage area was tarps of red, yellow and green on the ground at the corner of Illinois Avenue and College Street. Victims were placed on the tarps based on their injuries.

As the victims were taken from the tracks, they were rinsed, given first aid and transported to the hospital. Mildly injured victims were taken by bus to the hospital. Those with more serious injuries went in an ambulance.

After victims were cleared from the scene, Marion's Hazardous Materials Response Unit trailer was used to prepare to stop the leaking valve. After firefighters shut off the leaking train car valve, they had to be decontaminated on the scene.

Carbondale Fire Chief Mike Hertz said the county-wide drill included his department, Jackson County Ambulance Service, MABAS 45, Carbondale Police Department, SIU Police, a local HAM radio organization, SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and other agencies. Fire trucks from Herrin, Murphysboro and Metropolis joined others at the scene.

"Every few years we do disaster drills in a controlled environment," Hertz said, adding that it's a good way to test what the organizations do and how they work together. "We work together a lot, but not all at the same time."

Hertz said the first job of the fire department was to evaluate the chemical leaking from the train and set up a safety zone. Firefighters in proper safety attire with breathing apparatus removed the victims from the contaminated crash scene to decontamination.

"The goal is to completely decontaminate before leaving the scene," Hertz said.

One of the behind-the-scenes part of the drill on Tuesday involved the dispatch system. Carbondale Police Department's building was engulfed in a cloud of toxic fumes from the train leak. The dispatch center, which is in the building, had to be relocated to SIU.

"What we don't use we lose. What we learn in a controlled environment we take to real emergencies," Hertz said.

Orval Rowe, deputy coordinator of Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said the mock drill took about 18 months and a lot of paperwork to plan.

"We are very proud of the workmanship today," Rowe said.

An after-activity meeting was planned for Tuesday afternoon. The groups participating in the drill got together to talk about how each part of the drill went and where they may need to improve.

"It's real world. Everybody works together," Rowe said.

He added that it's better to find out today what works and what doesn't than on a "black sky" day during a real disaster.



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