Hinsdale firefighters set to review train disaster plans
Hinsdale is one of many stops for Metra trains used by commuters to get to and from jobs. | Chuck Fieldman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2012 1:30AM
HINSDALE — Firefighters from Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills will meet in September to review what they would do if a train derailed in their towns. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad runs through both towns.
Fire Department officials planned the training exercise before a freight train derailed from a railway bridge near the Glenview-Northbrook border on July 4. The bridge collapsed killing a couple in a car below the bridge.
Representatives of the DuPage County Office of Emergency Management will join officials from both towns’ police, fire and public works departments.
Hinsdale Assistant Fire Chief Tim McElroy will present a specific situation, namely a train derailing as it goes west below Route 83. The participants will discuss what their response would be to various circumstances, based on their existing emergency response plan.
“We are going to test the plan to see how well it works,” McElroy said. “There will be a lot of expertise in the room. They can point out things you can put in the plan to improve it.”
If a tank car filled with hazardous chemical derails, “we have to determine do we need to evacuate people,” McElroy said. “If so, where are they going to go? Where does the money come to support this operation, because it may go on for days?”
The Fire Department regularly holds such “tabletop disaster drills” to review its response plans; however, “it’s been a long time since we’ve done it for a train derailing,” McEvoy said.
In the nearly 40 years he has worked for the Hinsdale Fire Department, no train derailments have occurred in the village, McEvoy said.
An average of 143 freight and passenger trains roll over the Burlington line each day, said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth.
“It is in our best interest to fully maintain our infrastructure to keep the railroad running efficiently and safely,” she said.
Federal law requires railroad companies inspect their own railway bridges twice a year. The only railway bridge in Hinsdale is over Interstate 294, south of the oasis. Although McBeth couldn’t provide the date and findings of the most recent inspection, she said the bridge was found structurally sound.
Pioneer Press and The Doings have sent Freedom of Information Act requests to several agencies that deal with railroads asking for information, such as inspection reports, about rail bridges.
Amtrak and Metra have indicated they are working on the requests. The Doings is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to get information about railroad tracks. Pioneer Press asked for information on rail bridges in more than 50 communities that are in the newspapers’ coverage area. Amtrak and Metra have indicated they are working on the requests. The Doings is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to get information about railroad tracks.
McElroy said his department does not have a response plan specifically for a derailment over the tollway.
“A train derailment is a train derailment,” McElroy said. “We are not going to be there by ourselves.”
A key player in the village’s emergency preparation is Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.
“I work with all the police and fire departments of Hinsdale, La Grange, Western Springs and Bolingbrook,” said Sue Smith, regional coordinator of emergency management for the Adventist Midwest Health. “We meet at a minimum every quarter to talk about stuff that could happen.”
When the hospital will be involved with a large-scale emergency, it’s notified by the incident commander at the scene, Smith said.
If a commuter train derailed with numerous victims, hospital officials would broadcast a code in the hospital that tells all employees to stay put.
“I could call La Grange (Memorial Hospital) to see what they might have, as far as nurses, security, equipment,” Smith said. “I’m lucky I have four hospitals I can pull from.”
If a train accident involved hazardous materials, “we might lock the hospital down to keep all the patients inside,” Smith said. Access would be allowed through only one entrance to better control the situation.