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Emergency responders prepare for train derailments

ALEXANDRIA -- The mock disaster simulating a train derailment held in Alexandria on Saturday morning had one real problem. The train car Hanson County Emergency Manager Kevin Kayser was expecting didn't show up. Instead, crews were provided with ...

ALEXANDRIA - The mock disaster simulating a train derailment held in Alexandria on Saturday morning had one real problem.

The train car Hanson County Emergency Manager Kevin Kayser was expecting didn't show up.

Instead, crews were provided with pieces of a train car to stand in place of the "real thing," used their imaginations and went on with the training exercise.

The mock accident included a vehicle that had been rear-ended by a truck at a railroad crossing, which then caused the front vehicle to collide with a train car. The train car, carrying oil, was then derailed.

Inside the vehicle were three "victims" who had suffered minor injuries and were extracted by responders. Crews were in charge of controlling and containing the scene, clean-up, tending to the victims, watching for possible fires and ensuring the safety of themselves, each other and the community.

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"This crosses over from a train, to a truck going down the interstate-this training is based on crude oil," Kayser said. "There are a lot of the derailments going on recently, so it's not unheard of, and everybody needs to know what to do in a crisis."

The exercise included Hanson, Davison and Hutchinson counties, with the Ethan Fire Department, Alexandria Fire Department, Mitchell Ambulance, Davison County Search and Rescue, Hanson County Emergency Management, Burlington Northern Railroad, Hanson County Sheriff's Office, Hutchinson County Emergency Management and others providing mutual aid. Approximately 36 people participated in the four-hour event.

"It does make it tougher (not having the rail car), but there was someone who said 'We learned something today that we didn't know,' and that's the goal," Kayser said. "In the future, that will help someone, and it's impossible, whether the train car was there or not, that it could ever be 100 percent accurate because no two situations are the same."

Planning of the mock disaster began months prior to the ethanol tanker derailment near Scotland in September, in which seven cars of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad train derailed and caught fire. But the Scotland incident verified, at least to Kayser, that the training on Saturday was necessary, because "anything can happen at any time."

Yankton County Emergency Manager Paul Scherschlight, who was on the scene of the Scotland derailment, was tasked with controlling the flow of the exercise.

"He injects to make the firemen do different things as far as what happened (in Scotland) and making it as real as possible," Kayser said. "He controlled where the exercise went because he had seen it before."

A cloudy and cool day on Saturday, with a forecast calling for rain, paired with several area agencies' inability to attend for various reasons didn't make for ideal training conditions, Kayser said. But emergencies never go according to plan.

"It's meant to get everybody who participates a little bit better," Kayser said. "It's not going to ever pick the best time for something like that to happen. It could be today, tomorrow, next week, next year. You play with what shows up."

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