Fort McCoy News May 13, 2016

Passenger-railcar emergency training held

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Dozens of law-enforcement, fire, and medical personnel from throughout the region participated in first-ever Amtrak Passenger Train Emergency-Response training course in late April at Fort McCoy.

In addition to more than 20 Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) Fire Department personnel, selected law-enforcement and emergency responders from Tomah, Sparta, Onalaska, and La Crosse were trained.

"The training was originated with the Tomah Police Department and then grew to include many more," said DES Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Olivier. "When we heard about the training opportunity, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. It just worked out for us to have it here at Fort McCoy."

Personnel with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department practice an emergency-response scenario on an Amtrak Superliner railcar at the installation railhead on South Post.
Personnel with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department
practice an emergency-response scenario on an Amtrak Superliner railcar
at the installation railhead on South Post.

All personnel received classroom training at the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility classroom followed by hands-on practical training at an Amtrak Superliner passenger railcar set up at the Fort McCoy railhead on South Post.

The movement of the passenger railcar was coordinated between Amtrak and the Logistics Readiness Center's Transportation Division and DES nearly five months prior to the training event.

"It's rare to get a piece of equipment like this to use (for training)," said Gary Miller, Amtrak's Region VIII emergency manager and training instructor for the course. The Superliner passenger railcar is Amtrak's largest passenger car, and all of the cars are in high demand during summer and holiday traveling seasons.

Miller described the training event.

"We go over all the information (the emergency personnel) need to be safe with responding," Miller said. "We also look at how an incident command is set up, what's going to be involved with an incident command, and how (Amtrak) crews become part of that incident command and become a liaison.

"I also go through all the diagrams of all the equipment; how it works; and things the responders should look out for, such as the electrical hookups for the railcars," Miller said. "Then we go out to the railcar where they see the car firsthand and complete their training scenarios."

As part of the scenarios, Fort McCoy firefighters/emergency medical technicians (EMTs) practiced moving simulated patients out of the passenger railcar through the car's front and rear doorways as well as through side windows, which can be removed in case of an emergency.

"These kind of passenger railcars are very confined spaces and have very small rooms," Miller said. "They're comfortable for a passenger or two, but it's very tight for a firefighter to get in there to do what they need to do. It can be very restricting on their movement, which is why learning how to operate in one during an emergency is very important."

Fire department personnel are briefed on the layout of an Amtrak Superliner railcar.
Fire department personnel are briefed on the layout of an Amtrak
Superliner railcar.

"Because of all the train traffic we have through (Fort McCoy), we need to be prepared to be able to respond and respond safely to (any accident or incident)," Olivier said.

Fort McCoy Firefighter/EMT Ryan Liss said the training builds on other technical rescue training the department has received in recent years.

"What we learned here, though, is really important, and it is excellent training," Liss said. "I (personally) never realized how close quarters it is to get in (the railcar) and move around. In emergency situations, a car like this could make for some difficulty maneuvering or moving around, so it will definitely help us during any emergency response like this in the future."

Olivier said the training also provided the fire department with more-comprehensive information regarding train emergencies.

"With the training Gary brought here, he shared with us all the safety procedures, the emergency numbers, and the people who need to be on scene," Olivier said. "He discussed the importance of knowing mile markers on the tracks and crossings (near us). The takeaway is you have to know where you are. Then you can relay that information, then (Amtrak) can dispatch their responders out there, and all other responders will know exactly where you are."

Other military installations also would benefit from the training, Miller said. "If many installations did their research, they might find they might be within range of a mutual agreement where rail might be near them," he said.

Miller also said Fort McCoy's railhead made for a great location to hold the training, noting it is ideally located in between Tomah and Sparta, has ample space for access to the railcars on both sides, and has the best-available safety gear for setting everything up.

"This is the best setup I have had (for this training)," Miller said. "To me, this is the ideal location."

For more information about the Amtrak training, call Miller at 312-526-7893. For more information about the Fort McCoy Fire Department, call 608-388-2508.