Asheville’s HAZMAT Hosts Regional Response Teams in Rail Drill

A hazardous materials spill from a train car is a scenario Asheville’s firefighters hope never happens. But if it does, the department’s HAZMAT team knows how to handle it. The team, alongside teams from Charlotte, Fayetteville and Greensboro, put their skill to the test during a May 12 drill in the Norfolk Southern rail yard off of Meadows Road.

Using a multi-car Safety Train sponsored by CSX and hosted onsite by Norfolk Southern, the teams participated in three simulated emergencies involving the collision of a train carrying flammable fuel.

The opportunity for the regional response teams to work together is invaluable, said Asheville Fire and Rescue’s Emergency Management Specialist Abby Moore. “Looking at interoperability and cross training puts a face on a team,” Moore says. “Then we are not foreign to each other.”

There are 17 emergency response teams in North Carolina, and like Asheville’s, they respond to regional emergencies outside their home cities. The City of Asheville Fire Department’s Rapid Response Team 6 handles HAZMAT calls throughout the state’s westernmost counties.

Norfolk Southern owns all of the rail infrastructure within Asheville City limits, but CSX has track within the RRT 6 response area, so having both companies participating was a benchmark as well, Moore said.

In this case, the teams trained in several scenarios, including a liquid fuel spill, a pressurized fuel escape and evacuating injured rail personnel. Teams trained in the deployment of foam over spills and stopping fuel leaks. The drills required full communications and command centers as well. “This was an incredible opportunity to do this training. Having all of these resources in one place is unheard of,” Moore said. “And it came at no charge to the city.”

Although scheduled to last the duration of the day, drills wrapped up early due to the extensive prior training of the emergency teams. The drill was followed by an additional day of hands-on training with the equipment.

Staging the event required the participation of multiple agencies, including state and federal departments as well as emergency management coordinators from Buncombe and Henderson counties.