Michigan’s first responders prepare for HAZMAT incidents with specialized training

Although such incidents are infrequent, they can have catastrophic consequences.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:29 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - A toxic train derailment in Ohio earlier this year spilled over a million pounds of hazardous chemicals into the soil, water, and air. The cleanup is ongoing four months later, and some residents remain displaced due to safety concerns.

Related: Norfolk Southern estimates that Ohio derailment cost $387M

At the Michigan State Police Hazmat Training Center, first responders are currently undergoing training for similar situations.

“Training our 30 plus hazmat teams around the state as well as private companies on the proper techniques of cleaning up a spill, but also identifying the chemical that is involved in the spill and mitigating that clean up is essential,” said Wendy Galbreath, the manager of the Hazmat Training Unit.

According to Michael Hamel, the Fire Chief of Meridian Township, train derailments are unlikely but not impossible.

“The odds aren’t against us, it’s in our favor that it’s not going to happen,” Hamel said. “That doesn’t mean a train is not going to come off its tracks a little bit, there are many reasons that could happen - a bad track or a wheel comes off, a wheel breaks, brakes that fail - those are all considered derailments.”

At the Michigan State Police’s Hazardous Materials Training Center, responders are being trained to be prepared for any potential incidents. Galbreath explained that they simulate real-life scenarios, including train derailments, using props in the training yard. They employ safe materials, water with dye, and smoke machines to replicate leaks realistically.

“They’re going to run through real-life scenarios,” Galbreath said. “In this instance, they’re going to simulate train derailment and they’re going to have run through it as if this just happened.”

Galbreath emphasized the necessity of hazardous materials training, as these substances are constantly transported on roads and rails, posing potential risks. Although such incidents are infrequent, they can have catastrophic consequences.

The Training Center itself is undergoing significant expansion, which will nearly double its size over the next year.

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