Work on Norfolk Southern’s (NS) new regional first-responder training center in East Palestine, Ohio, got under way Sept. 21 with a groundbreaking event attended by railroad and local officials as well as firefighters and police officers.
Just weeks after the Feb. 3 NS derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the railroad announced it would establish the center to provide ongoing, free training for first responders from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the greater region. It builds upon NS’s Operation Awareness and Response (OAR) program, which trains 5,000 first responders annually across the railroad’s 22-state network.
According to NS, the new center will offer traditional fire service training to all first responders and specialized training for responding to rail and other transportation-related emergencies. It will also offer classroom, web-based and online resources, table-top drills, full-scale emergency response exercises, and other specialized training opportunities.
NS said it will invest at least $20 million over the next 10 years in the new center, which will operate through a partnership with the village of East Palestine, at no cost to the village or taxpayers. Preliminary designs for the new facility are currently in development by architecture and engineering firm Arcadis.
The center is temporarily operating out of NS’s rail yard in Bellevue, Ohio, where more than 400 local emergency personnel have received training this year.
“First responders are heroes, and we aim to ensure they have the training and expertise to do their jobs safely, no matter the situation,” said NS President and CEO Alan H. Shaw, who participated at the groundbreaking with East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick, State Rep. Monica Robb Blasdell, and State Sen. Mike Rulli, and local fire fighters and police officers. “We are grateful to East Palestine’s leaders for partnering with us to make this training center a reality.”
“We’re excited to get the training center up and running to bring more capacity for first responder training to all types of incidents, while strengthening the network of professionals specially trained to respond to rail incidents,” NS Vice President of Safety John Fleps said.
Regional traffic to the center, as a result of the investment, is slated to bring additional customers to area businesses, according to NS. “This lift to the area’s economy and investment in East Palestine’s future, works in tandem with a $500,000 economic development grant Norfolk Southern recently awarded the village of East Palestine,” the railroad reported. “To date, Norfolk Southern has committed $95 million to East Palestine and the surrounding communities.”
In a related development, NS on Sept. 20 reported teaming with RapidSOS to help “make it quicker and easier” for first responders to access cargo and hazardous materials information and enable the ability to call for mutual aid, all while providing ongoing training.