After Ohio train derailment, New Castle Fire Department proactive in emergency preparedness

After another Norfolk Southern train derailed overnight, some people in New Castle are breathing a sigh of relief, thinking how things could have been so much worse after what happened in East Palestine — across the Pennsylvania/Ohio border, approximately ten air miles to the west.

Channel 11 asked Chief Mike Kobbe of the New Castle Fire Department what went through his mind Wednesday night at 11 p.m. when the call came into 911 dispatchers of a reported train derailment in his city.

“Damage control…how much are we going to have to evacuate? Is it going to be as bad as the most recent one?” Kobbe said.

“The most recent one” being East Palestine, Ohio, where a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed, leading to a two-mile evacuation and subsequent controlled explosion in February. Now, even months later, people there are still questioning if their quality of life will ever return to what it was before the derailment, a situation that Kobbe wouldn’t wish upon any community.

“We’ve always said, it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen in our area - because we have a lot of rail lines — it’s a matter of when,” Kobbe said. “We’ve always had that concern because with the materials that are transported through our county, from Beaver County through Allegheny County…heading north to Erie County, even to Buffalo, New York.”

So Kobbe and his department decided to take a proactive approach.

“In light of recent events with the train derailments in our area, we’ve actually taken courses to prepare ourselves for this kind of event,” Kobbe said.

First responders in New Castle are working to improve their skillset and knowledge, just in case another derailment to emergency situations like it ever happens again.

“....We do primarily classroom learning because these are so hard to nail down. We do have a couple of training props in our station for tank cars, how to safely close them off, mitigate leaks,” Kobbe said. “We do some hands-on training, but the majority is classroom.”

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