When a Union Pacific freight train came screeching off the rails Saturday morning, the Utah County special response team was at the scene within an hour and a half.
No one was injured in the incident, but 23 of the 165 cars had derailed, including 11 cars carrying hazardous materials like propane and biodiesel, the Associated Press reported. One car had even tipped on the side and was leaking propane.
The regional hazmat response team, which covers five counties, was busy at another incident at the time of the derailment.
That’s why certified personnel with American Fork Fire and Rescue, Pleasant Grove Fire, Orem Fire, Lehi Fire, Provo Fire and Rescue, Lone Peak Fire District and the Utah County Fire and Emergency Management all responded to the derailment.
“We had a good team of people who were put together and I think everyone contributed to having a successful outcome,” said Lone Peak Fire Chief Reed Thompson.
Although every first responder is trained in basic hazmat operations, only those approved at a hazmat technician level were allowed at the scene.
“Our job, based on where it was located, simply was to identify the hazard, keep the public safe and coordinate with the railroad to work on cleanup and mitigation efforts,” Thompson said.
The team helped establish a perimeter marking hot, warm and cold zones around the incident. Each zone indicates the amount of contamination and level of risk to those inside the area.
The hot zone, or highly contaminated zone, for the derailment extended for nearly three-fourths of a mile.
“Generally, you look at the size of the cars, what the materials are involved there and you build your zones based on a worst-case scenario,” Thompson said.
He explained the special response team often completes tabletop exercises or simulations to help prepare for incidents like a derailment.
Due to lack of cellphone service in the remote area, the Central Utah 911 Dispatch also played a huge role in helping the responders order resources and supplies via radio.
Officials planned to move the rail cars but worried the leaking propane would cause an explosion, the AP reported. Later, officials decided the safest way to deal with the explosive material was to detonate the nine tankers with propane and two tankers with biodiesel.
The cause of the derailment is still unknown and the investigation and clean-up is expected to last several more days.