Emergency response and training has changed dramatically in the decades since the deadly explosion in Waverly, Tenn., in 1978.
Buddy Frazier, the city manager of Waverly, about 65 miles west of Nashville, who was a young police officer when he witnessed the 1978 explosion, said that emergency responders are better trained and better equipped today. Still, he understands the challenges they face.
“Anytime there’s an incident anywhere in the country,” he said, “I think about what happened here and how similar it is.”
After a CSX train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire near Mount Carbon, W.Va., last week, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the blaze like they would any other.
But they didn’t do that. Instead, they evacuated residents, kept a safe distance and let the fire burn out, which took four days. This counterintuitive move likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water.
It also may have saved the lives of residents and first responders alike. In spite of several powerful explosions of tank cars, no one was killed and only one resident suffered minor injuries.
“One of the real points of progress over the past few years is the training of local first responders on how to deal with these events,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.