CT Train Derailment and Mass Casualty Response

BY SCOTT R. BISSON AND CHRISTOPHER MARTIN

On Friday, May 17, 2013, during peak rush hour, an eight-car, electric-drawn commuter train traveling eastbound from New York City suddenly derailed as it passed over the border between Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut. All eight cars derailed, causing significant track damage. As the cars came to a stop, some of the cars crossed over into the westbound tracks. Approximately 20 seconds later, a second eight-car commuter train traveling westbound from New Haven, Connecticut, struck the derailed train. The resulting impact tore open the train cars and caused multiple traumatic injuries to passengers and overhead electrified wires to fall onto the tracks. Approximately 500 people were evaluated on scene and 70 were transported by emergency medical services (EMS) to area hospitals. The derailment and the track damage impacted all Northeast Corridor commuter train traffic, including the high-speed Acela train service linking Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC.

BACKGROUND

According to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the Metro-North Railroad is the second largest commuter rail operator in the nation.1 The New Haven line of the Metro-North Railroad provides both local and express train service between New York City’s Grand Central Station and New Haven. The rail line runs parallel to the Interstate 95 transportation corridor and provides relief to the already overburdened interstate system. According to MTA statistics, approximately 281,000 commuters travel each day on the rail line during a typical weekday commute. (1)

In 2011, the states of Connecticut and New York began to upgrade the 40-year-old M-2- and M-4-style rail cars on the New Haven line with M-8 electrified passenger cars manufactured by Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. As of April 2013, 216 M-8 cars were delivered to Metro-North, and 194 were inspected and placed in service on the line.2 The M-8 cars are built to the latest safety standards developed after other rail line incidents. Some of the enhanced safety features include crush-resistant corner posts and frames to protect occupants, crumple zone technology to absorb crash energy, and larger egress windows to prevent passenger entrapment following a derailment.3 During a news conference following the crash, Connecticut Governor Daniel Molloy stated, “To the best of our knowledge, it’s the first time a car like this has been involved in this kind of incident. By all appearances, they responded well.” (3)

train
(1) A view of the eastbound train (right side of photo) from the north side of the tracks; it is derailed but resting upright on ballast rocks. All victims have been removed and evacuated from the area. Overhead wires, disconnected from their overhead connections, can be seen resting on the tracks. Intact 480- and 720-volt battery boxes are visible under the train cars along the tracks. The front of the westbound train (left side) is also visible three car lengths away from the photographer’s position. [Photos courtesy of the Fairfield (CT) Fire Department unless otherwise noted.]
track damage
(2) A view of the track damage near the point of the eastbound train’s derailment. Four tracks are visible, but only two tracks (left side of photo) were in operation because of construction at the time of the accident.

Despite improvements in rail car technology, the railroad infrastructure, including both tracks and electrification systems, are older in most parts of the state of Connecticut. According to the MTA, in March 2013, planned improvements in Connecticut included replacing 25 railroad bridges, replacing the 158 miles of overhead catenary system with a newer constant tension system considered state of the art by the industry, and upgrading the entire power supply system to support future expansion of services on both the New Haven and Acela lines.4 Bridge and rail construction was already underway at the time of the incident in many portions of the state including the derailment location that was combining traffic on only two working lines because of construction.

The Fairfield Fire Department (FFD) is an all-career fire department located in southern Connecticut along the coast of Long Island Sound. Protecting 32 square miles and approximately 57,000 residents, the department has 98 sworn full-time personnel and seven civilian employees deployed to five fire stations and a regional fire training facility. Since 2012, sworn fire personnel have been distributed as follows: 92 members are assigned to four rotating shifts of 23 members each; three are assigned to the fire prevention and code enforcement division; one is assigned to the training division; and the remaining two positions represent the department’s administration and include the chief and deputy chief. The FFD provides fire suppression, nontransporting EMS, hazardous materials response, and technical rescue services to the community.

The Bridgeport Fire Department (BFD) is an all-career department located in southern Connecticut. Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut and has a population of approximately 150,000 in a 16-square-mile area. The fire department consists of 287 uniformed personnel and six civilian personnel. The 259 sworn members are divided into four platoons that staff nine engine companies, four ladder companies, one rescue company, two battalion chiefs, and a safety officer distributed throughout eight firehouses in the city. The Fire Marshal Division, Training Division, three deputy chiefs, administrative staff, and chief account for the balance of department personnel. The BFD provides fire suppression, nontransporting EMS, hazardous materials response, and technical rescue in all disciplines related to a heavy rescue unit.

The BFD and FFD often provide mutual-aid support to each other during times of high-call volume. The departments operate on different radio frequencies (FFD on UHF and BFD on VHF) for dispatch and fireground operations, making field communications between departments difficult because of the technological limitations of the current equipment. During mutual aid coverage assignments, spare portable radios are kept at FFD’s fire station 2 and are used by BFD and FFD companies. Mobile radios are also installed in some apparatus, allowing the departments to communicate.

THE ACCIDENT

According to the preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), on Friday May 17, 2013, at 1801 hours, New Haven-bound passenger train #1584 was traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour (mph) when it derailed and came to a stop near milepost 53.3 at the Fairfield/Bridgeport town line on track #4. Northern tracks #1 and #3 were not being used at the time of the incident because of construction work in the area and scheduled bridge replacement. During the derailment, the New Haven-bound train damaged the adjacent tracks, and the train stopped with portions of the train encroaching onto track #2. Twenty seconds later, New York-bound train #1581, traveling on track #2, approached and struck the derailed train. According to information recovered from the onboard data recorders, train #1581 slowed from 70 mph to approximately 23 mph when it struck the derailed train.

Passenger Reactions

Both trains remained upright following the collision. Overhead catenary wires that power the trains and charge batteries became disconnected from the suspension system and were lying on both the tracks and the train cars. Witnesses at a nearby skating park captured the aftermath on a helmet camera seconds after the collision. A review of the video shows a large dust cloud surrounding the train cars as the kids rushed up to the accident site. Train personnel can be clearly seen managing the doorways of the trains and trying to keep all occupants on the train. From the video, the reactions of people on the train initially appear to be calm. A few minutes later, however, the varied reactions of both victims and witnesses became evident, as injured people begin to appear and people could see the damage to the train cars. Many people are seen on their cell phones, some calling for help and others calling family and friends.

NOTIFICATION OF ACCIDENT

Because of the location of the incident and the way that the enhanced 911 system handles cellular-based calls in proximity to the highway, the initial calls were routed among three separate dispatch centers including the Connecticut State Police, the BFD/police dispatch center (B-ERS), and the Fairfield emergency communications center (F-ECC). The Bridgeport and Fairfield centers are municipality-based combined dispatch centers managed by civilian (nonsworn) employees. These dispatch centers handle all calls for police and fire type incidents. For medical emergencies, the centers notify American Medical Response (AMR), the contracted EMS provider in both towns for transportation services.

The first call to 911 was received at 1802 hours by the B-ERS from a person driving on Interstate 95. The caller reported seeing a train collision from the highway and gave an approximate location near the town line.

Multiple 911 calls were subsequently received by both the B-ERS and the F-ECC. Telecommunicators in both dispatch centers attempted to identify the incident severity and location. Despite the accident, the majority of 911 callers were calm and provided very clear and concise information as to their location and the hazards present. On review of the incident recordings, many callers reported that the trains had derailed and collided, people were hurt, and they smelled smoke on the trains. Panic could be heard in the voices of passengers in the background as they started to realize what had happened.

FAIRFIELD RESPONSE

Fairfield telecommunicators quickly dispatched fire and police units at 1803 hours to the Fairfield Metro Center train station at 61 Timko Street in Fairfield. The initial FFD response included Engine 2, Engine 3, Engine 1, Ladder 2, Ladder 1, and Car 3 (shift commander). The initial report was that a train had derailed, wires were down, and there was a fire. Police officers arriving at the station did not see the train and reported the location was clear. As a result of this information, FFD units were sent to locations along the tracks toward Bridgeport to determine the exact location of the incident. In an effort to locate the accident, MTA dispatch was contacted, but it was unaware of any incidents involving its trains.

At 1808 hours, FFD Engine 2 under the command of a provisional lieutenant (acting assignment) arrived on the scene over the town line in Bridgeport and reported the corrected incident location. The lieutenant directed his company to drive alongside the train to identify the size of the incident and best access routes; members ultimately stopped at the intersection of State Street and Fairfield Avenue. The Engine 2 lieutenant reported that he had a train upright with many passengers outside of the train and that his crew was initiating a recon of the area. Mobile command was used because of the proximity of Car 3 to the scene. FFD Ladder 2 arrived on scene and parked on Commerce Drive near a locked railroad construction access road. Ladder 2 immediately cut the chain link gate for victim access and approached the train from the north. As soon as the gate was opened, approximately 150 people approached the ladder crew to move away from the train. They were directed to a vacant lot and were asked to stay on scene until crews could assist them.

At 1810 hours, Car 3 arrived on scene and established Fairfield Command at a fixed command post (CP) in front of the construction access road by Ladder 2. The FFD uses a repeated dispatch channel and a direct fireground channel for combat operations. Because of this communications setup and a near-miss incident in 1995 in which radio communication was cited as a contributing factor, the shift commander in Car 3 has an aide to assist in managing multichannel radio communications and provide command support. Initially, Command was going to monitor both dispatch and fireground radio channels, as the aide was assigned to conduct a quick recon of the area and to report back to command. Unfortunately, radio traffic became immediately overwhelming, and the aide was called back to command to support operations.

AMR 718, a paramedic ambulance, arrived at 1811 hours and approached the scene from Fairfield Command’s position on Commerce Drive. Command had a face-to-face meeting and informed the paramedic that he was implementing a mass-casualty protocol that included the request for additional EMS resources to the scene, the implementation of on-scene triage procedures, and the notification of local hospitals of the potential for a heavy volume of patients. AMR 718 initiated a scene size-up and made notifications through both Southwest CMED (the regional medical dispatch radio system) and AMR’s dispatcher.

At 1812 hours, command updated the F-ECC of the exact location of the incident and the initial CP location, which was in front of the construction access road. Additionally, command requested that the BFD and Metro-North Railroad be advised of command’s location and that there was a mass-casualty incident involving two trains, catenary wires down, and a transformer fire above one of the trains. Two additional engines (Engine 4 and Engine 5) were called to the scene from Fairfield, exhausting all of the on-duty resources. A callback brought in mutual aid to cover fire stations and off-duty personnel to staff trucks.

BRIDGEPORT RESPONSE

After hearing radio chatter of a possible train accident in Fairfield, the BFD shift commander (Battalion 1) contacted dispatch for information about a possible train derailment at 1809 hours. Dispatch reported that it was unaware if the incident was actually in Bridgeport and asked if they wanted a still (single-unit response to investigate) alarm sent out. At the same time as the train accident, Bridgeport units were also involved with a police officer-involved vehicle accident and a critical patient with multisystem trauma and amputation resulting from a separate crash of a vehicle into a house. A report of a motorcycle accident in the same area as the train tracks was received, and BFD Engine 7 was dispatched to that location. Battalion 1 requested that a full assignment be dispatched.

M-8 passenger cars
(3) A close-up of the exterior damage to the trains. Construction materials include composites of metal and nonmetal materials formed to protect the passenger compartment while absorbing and deflecting impact. The wheel assembly of the westbound train has been derailed and is partially penetrating the undercarriage of the eastbound train. Unlike freight train cars, you cannot easily pass beneath the M-8 passenger cars, making removing victims across the tracks difficult.

At 1811 hours, BFD Engine 7 arrived on the scene at Commerce and Fairfield Avenues and reported to B-ERS that there was a train derailment with multiple injuries and requested that the BFD send a full assignment. At 1812 hours, B-ERS dispatched Engine 3, Engine 1, Ladder 11, Tower Ladder 5, Rescue 5, Battalion 1, and Safety Officer 1 to the scene. At 1814 hours, BFD Battalion 1 arrived on scene and established a Bridgeport Command Post at Commerce Drive at Dewey Street. At 1819 hours, Battalion 1 requested confirmation from the MTA that power to the areas had been shut down and continued to coordinate BFD units.

Preplanning and Training

The MTA has provided awareness training to both fire departments over the years in regard to rail emergencies. In Fairfield, MTA provided training in 1999 prior to the start of the Acela high-speed train service linking Boston and Washington. Training included discussions of railroad operations, descriptions of train types and safety features, the distribution of track layout maps, and emergency response guides to be carried in apparatus. Extensive construction and electrical upgrades were made prior to this service, and fire personnel often visited sites for preemergency planning. Company officers provide refresher training to their personnel.

In 2011, Connecticut placed new M-8 rail cars in service on the New Haven line. Specific training on these cars and their updated safety features was not provided to local fire departments.

Both departments routinely respond to emergencies on or near the railroad right-of-way. There are no grade-level rail crossings in either Bridgeport or Fairfield. Medical emergencies, gas leaks near the tracks, and track or brake fires make up the majority of responses. The last significant train derailment that occurred in the region was in 1911. Despite construction and bridge replacement projects, personnel maintain awareness of track closures and unusual conditions affecting service through in-service company inspections and site visits.

Following 9/11, extensive planning was conducted by both departments and the state of Connecticut for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) types of events involving mass transit. The state purchased mass decontamination trailers and deployed them throughout the region, including Bridgeport, for use in case of a chemical attack at one of the train stations. Local fire companies have also planned for mass decontamination using equipment on apparatus and assigned personnel prior to deployment during annual hazmat refresher training. Access and egress routes have been predesignated.

Initial Command Concerns

  • Assess the scene and the scope of the problem.
  • Determine the estimated number and extent of injuries.
  • Identify and manage electrical and train traffic concerns and catenaries down.
  • Describe and manage the fire—reports of smoke and fire on the train.
  • Implement command and control of the on-scene resources of multiple agencies.
  • Be vigilant for secondary devices and possible terrorism.
  • Consider if it could be a crime scene.
  • Plan for managing a large number of walking wounded, both injured and uninjured.
  • Prepare hospitals for an influx of trauma patients.

Actions Taken

Hazard Control. Initial responders were confronted with catenary wires down on the tracks, the possibility of additional train traffic in the area, and reports of smoke and fire.

Electrical Hazards. Electric trains on the New Haven line are powered by a system of elevated catenary lines that transfer energy at approximately 25,000 volts AC to the cars traveling on the tracks. There are no “third-rail” power systems in the area of Bridgeport or Fairfield on this line. The newer M-8 cars also have banks of batteries on each car with DC voltages up to 480 volts that provide power and utilities for passengers, including cell phone charging, lighting, and communications. Using the railroad right-of-way, elevated 130,000-volt electrical transmission lines are also mounted in the area; fortunately, they were not involved in this incident.

Following initial notifications from Bridgeport and Fairfield dispatchers to the MTA to shut down train traffic and power to the area, representatives reported to the scene and were directed to the CP by operating companies. Responders were quickly advised by the on-scene Metro-North line foreman that power was shut down to all catenaries in the area but that the newer M-8 cars can remain energized for approximately 30 minutes. Additionally, all train traffic was confirmed stopped in the area.

Fire. Initial reports from passengers stated that there was smoke on the trains. Responding crews also reported that there was a transformer fire above the trains. Command assigned the third-arriving engine from Fairfield to assess fire hazards and report back. Additional companies assigned to search and rescue reported that they found no fires on any of the train cars. During the assessment, the company determined that the fire involved only the wooden platform beneath elevated transformers and not the trains themselves. With power turned off, the fires were monitored and self-extinguished in approximately 30 minutes.

Hazmats and Potential WMD or Secondary Explosive Devices. As is the normal procedure for incidents involving transportation, crews continuously evaluated the scene for the presence of hazmats but did not locate any significant leaks or releases. Because of the recent terrorist bombing events in Boston and the knowledge that all mass transit transportation systems have been identified through planning as potential terrorist targets, Command was very concerned about the presence of WMD or secondary devices. Local police from Bridgeport and Fairfield, along with responding MTA police officers, were on scene very early in the incident and worked to protect the scenes. In most areas, railroad right-of-ways are protected by vegetation, fences, and buildings, which form natural barriers and access points. This design assisted law enforcement in controlling scene access and egress points. Police dogs were eventually brought in to search for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other hazards to responders.

interior eastbound passenger compartment
(4) A view of the interior of the eastbound passenger compartment intrusion. This car was overhanging the westbound tracks following the derailment. The interior wall and seats were sheared off by the front of the westbound train. One passenger was ejected and was rescued from underneath the train by passengers before firefighters arrived.
interior eastbound passenger compartment
(5) A view of the interior of the eastbound passenger compartment. This is the opposite side of the collision (south side of the train) and the train, including the windows and doors, remained mostly intact. Railroad employees were on the trains and assisted emergency workers. Emergency doors appeared to operate as designed in both train cars post-crash. Responders did not use emergency egress windows.

Establishment of Unified Command. Unlike police departments, fire departments in Connecticut continue to respond to a reported emergency even if they cross jurisdictional lines unless placed in service by the primary agency. In this incident, Fairfield crews arrived on scene in Bridgeport, established command, and initiated scene operations prior to the arrival of the BFD. Normally, mutual-aid companies responding out of town will report to the out-of-town CP for assignment. In this case, command was established by the mutual-aid shift commander (Fairfield Car 3). When BFD’s Battalion 1 arrived on scene at 1814 hours, he also established a CP in close proximity to Fairfield Command on the other side of the same building. BFD Battalion 1 and FFD Car 3 were initially separated by parked apparatus on scene and did not see each other. Within minutes, FFD Car 3 was advised of Battalion 1’s location on scene, relocated Fairfield Command to his location, and established unified command. Following a quick command briefing, B-ERS was notified at 1824 hours in a status report from Battalion 1 that unified command was located at Dewey Street and Commerce Drive. Throughout the incident, all other responding agencies were directed to the unified command post to check in and coordinate operations.

Mutual Aid. In the early stages of the incident, area departments beyond Fairfield and Bridgeport monitoring scanners became aware of the incident and offered assistance through their dispatch centers. In Connecticut, there are generally three types of mutual aid: automatic aid on state highways, mutual-aid response and coverage by neighboring departments when local resources are exhausted, and the statewide fire activation plan for task forces and strike teams when regional resources are depleted. A local representative from the state’s fire plan responded to the scene and offered assistance to Command at approximately 45 minutes into the incident. Ultimately, Command did not request any task forces; station coverage was managed through normal mutual-aid coverage assignments. No fire departments self-dispatched to the scene.

Rescue, Triage, and the Walking Wounded. As initial fire crews arrived on scene, many stunned train passengers were found walking along the tracks toward emergency responders. Initially, hundreds of walking wounded were directed to a vacant lot away from the tracks and asked to stay until emergency crews could assist them. As fire personnel approached the trains, they were inundated with reports of severely injured victims on the trains; in one case, a victim was ejected and under the train. The ejected victim was extricated by civilians prior to the fire department’s arrival and was placed on the ground.

Since scene access was limited because of the length of the train cars, two separate patient triage areas were set up—one on the north side and one on the south side. Ambulance crews were split into two groups and could access patients on either side of the tracks. Fire and police personnel brought most victims to patient triage areas where ambulance crews initiated care. The rocks and damaged rails made roller stretchers unusable; many victims were carried by teams of fire and police personnel, who used backboards, stair chairs, and stokes baskets. It is important to note that two civilian doctors, one of whom identified himself as a local trauma surgeon, came forward early in the incident and assisted fire and EMS personnel in triaging patients. CMED and on-scene EMS coordinated victim transport destinations between two hospitals in Bridgeport.

By 1913 hours, fire personnel declared primary and secondary searches of both trains all clear of victims; this included a search underneath all trains with a thermal imaging camera. By this time also, priority patients had been transported off site to area hospitals. In all, ambulances had transported approximately 72 victims of varying medical priorities to area hospitals. Additional ambulances called to the scene through the mass casualty declaration were staged on Commerce Drive.

Many uninjured persons remained on scene in the victim staging locations. EMS crews were assigned to walk through the crowds of people to offer assistance and care for minor injuries. Both the MTA and the local emergency management team brought in passenger buses to transport uninjured persons to the next train station where they could arrange for transportation home. The passengers’ names were recorded for documentation purposes and future contact as they boarded the buses.

Emergency Radio Activation. During the incident, Engine 3’s emergency button activation was received by the F-ECC; command was notified. Initial attempts to contact the officer by radio were unsuccessful. Following emergency protocols, a radio announcement was made to all fireground units of the missing company. Engine 3 was quickly located and reported that it was an accidental activation. A follow-up roll call was conducted, and all units were accounted for.

Transition from Rescue to Recovery. At approximately 1930 hours, unified command met with MTA, emergency management, and other state and local agencies to develop a demobilization and transition plan from rescue to recovery. The fire department provided lighting support for scene safety for the next 48 hours. The NTSB was contacted; it sent a team to initiate the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation resources were also on scene to rule out potential terrorist actions. Fire and EMS crews were released from the scene. Law enforcement personnel implemented tighter perimeter controls and limited access to civilians. MTA police brought in resources for extended operations and scene control. The last BFD unit cleared the scene at 2030 hours. Neither fire department reported any personnel injuries.

As a result of the incident, train traffic throughout the region was completely stopped from Friday, May 17, 2013, until Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Alternative transportation methods, including bus service, were provided for displaced rail commuters to reduce the impact on local roadways.

CRITICAL FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO SUCCESS

The incident was successfully concluded because of the following actions:

  • A command aide was immediately made available for reconnaissance and to monitor dispatch channel communications, allowing the incident commander (IC) to monitor fireground communications.
  • The companies were disciplined and operated as units.
  • Commuters rendered assistance—two trauma surgeons and riders’ rescue of the victim under the train.
  • The BFD/FFD command posts were combined early.
  • The departments maintained a manageable span of control on the tactical radio channels.
  • Assistance from the trains’ staff members facilitated quick control of on-scene hazards.
  • No hydraulic tool extrication was required.
  • No active firefighting was required.
  • Identifying the regional impact of the incident, the scene was set up for long-term recovery operations.
  • The area was treated as a potential crime scene from the start; the scene was protected and the commuters were contained.
  • There was good communications among all units.
  • Accountability roll calls were conducted on scene.
  • Responders drew on their experiences with previous train incidents and training provided by the MTA.

POST-INCIDENT ANALYSIS

An after-action meeting was conducted with the NTSB at the Bridgeport Emergency Operations Center on May 24, 2013, with representatives from all response agencies present. Additional critiques were also conducted by the BFD and FFD. As a result of the discussions in these meetings and a review of the actions taken on scene including recorded radio traffic, the following recommendations have been compiled to enhance future responses to rail emergencies.

Use of command aides. Both the FFD and BFD have command aides assigned to shift commanders. These aides proved critical to the success of the command officers during initial response and rescue operations. Both departments use separate dispatch and fireground radio channels. Initial on-scene radio traffic was overwhelming on both channels as dispatchers received 911 calls and on-scene crews began to implement tactics so that one person could not manage all transmissions effectively. The use of the aides to monitor primary dispatch channels for critical information as command officers coordinated fireground operations proved to be the single most important command and control tool used by unified command at this incident.

Preplanning. The identification of scene locations is paramount to successful operations. To make certain that companies know where they are operating, command may need to specify scene locations over the fireground channel to minimize confusion. In this incident, fire personnel were used to dealing with track numbers and train travel direction, but when faced with a derailment, normal methods of area identification may not work. Some responders confused northbound (which is on the southern track side) with north side while operating on the scene. To avoid this, scene identification should be deliberate and announced to all units.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). There is a need to develop a rail-specific SOP that addresses power control, train traffic control, mass casualty, MTA liaison functions, and mutual-aid considerations for all types of rail emergencies. Current all hazard plans and procedures in both communities were adequate for this response. Because of the regional impact of these types of incidents and the likelihood of many mutual-aid agencies working together in a unified command structure, the NTSB suggested that a regional rail response SOP may be beneficial.

Communications. The fact that both fire departments operate on different radio frequencies assisted unified command in maintaining span of control and reasonable radio communications during operations. At the point in the incident when Fairfield and Bridgeport command officers implemented unified command, the natural differences in radio frequencies allowed two operational branches to be quickly implemented without having units change channels or radios. Despite this, there were times when the volume of radio communications was so high that additional fireground frequencies may have been helpful. When implementing additional tactical channels for command and control, additional aides or communications personnel should be used to monitor transmissions. At larger incidents, command officers should be responsible for monitoring only a single radio channel or risk missing critical fireground transmissions such as a Mayday or an urgent request.

Unified Command. Once a CP is established, it must be staffed, and all responding agencies need to have a representative report there for assignment and coordination of resources. During this incident, EMS command was initially mobile. There were times during the initial response when information about the status of triage and transport was not immediately known at Command. Once an additional EMS command officer arrived on scene, these “fog of war” issues subsided.

Other agencies including police and EMS have received training in the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System and are aware of the need to implement strong command structures. Initially, the Bridgeport police established a police CP in a separate location from unified command. Police use terms as outer perimeter and inner perimeter for law enforcement scenes. Once they became aware that the incident was in rescue mode, they quickly sent a representative over to the unified command post and worked collectively as a partner in the response. This highlighted the need to allow different agencies to establish a base of operations and staging that would not be confused with the unified command post when communicating among agencies.

Equipment and support vehicles. Resource ordering worked extremely well for this incident. Even though the incident was larger than either department could handle alone, the resources of both departments combined with normal callback procedures proved to be adequate. One resource that was not initially called to the scene but could have been used was the region’s mobile command post and communications vehicle. Unified command initially had challenges during the response, including the lack of CP security and the inability to visualize the entire scene from command’s location. Fire personnel are used to being boots on the ground in command situations, but with hundreds of victims and multiple hazards present, a CP vehicle with elevated video, meeting rooms, and communications equipment would have been useful. Unfortunately, these vehicles are not normally staffed and the required lead time for activation by off-duty personnel rules out their usage during routine operations.

Composite construction materials
(6) A view of the front of the westbound train. Parts of the westbound train wall are penetrating into the car around the frame structure that cut through the wall of the westbound train. The structural integrity of the striking car remained intact post-crash. Composite construction materials are visible. [Photo courtesy of the Bridgeport (CT) Fire Department.]

Training. Interagency training needs to be conducted prior to emergencies to prepare responders for the unique situations involving railroad equipment. In this incident, there remains discussion about how quickly rail cars dissipate stored energy once overhead power is turned off. Previous training indicated that older M-2 and M-4 cars could be instantly deenergized, whereas some rail employees reported to command that newer M-8 cars can take 30 minutes to dissipate stored power supplies. Metro-North Railroad has notified the departments that it has been developing rescue classes in conjunction with the Fire Department of New York training academy and would like to deliver this training to area departments. Both departments plan to participate in this training in the future.

Multiagency mass-casualty training drills need to be conducted to improve familiarity with smart triage tags and mass-casualty procedures. Smart triage tags are carried in separate field bags and must be called for when needed. Another challenge to be considered by departments planning for these incidents involves identifying a method for tracking the masses of walking wounded responders encountered. We were able to quickly direct them to a fenced-in parking area until EMS resources could evaluate them, but they quickly became anxious and approached anyone with a white helmet to discuss their bumps and bruises. Future plans locally include adding mass-casualty tags to all EMS bags and incorporating them into more routine calls such as multivictim vehicle accidents to increase responders’ familiarity with the system and to ensure seamless implementation at the larger incidents.

INVESTIGATION

According to the preliminary investigation report issued by the NTSB on June 4, 2013, the cause of the accident remains under investigation. The report notes that two days prior to the derailment, a field inspection by Metro-North employees “found an insulated rail joint with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track system under load at catenary No. 734 on track 4 near MP53.3.”5 This is the same location where New Haven-bound train #1548 derailed and came to a stop 23 seconds prior to being struck by another train. The NTSB has taken sections of the rail and joints to its lab in Washington, DC, for analysis.

References

1. MTA Metro-North Railroad (2013a). MTA Metro-North Railroad [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://web.mta.info/mta/planning/psas/pdf/CT-presentation.pdf, Table 6.

2. Metropolitan Transit Authority. (2013). Update: New Haven line m8 rail cars April 7, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.mta.info/mnr/html/newm8.html, Table 1.

3. “Lincoln-built Kawasaki cars design credited with saving lives in Connecticut.” (2013, May 25, 2013). JournalStar.com. Retrieved from http://journalstar.com/business/local/lincoln-built-kawasaki-cars-design-credited-with-saving-lives-in/article_2c02106d-e645-55fa-964a-d8752c354fd9.html.

4. Metropolitan Transit Authority. (2013). The MTA network. Retrieved from http://web.mta.info/mta/network.htm, page 4.

5. National Transportation Safety Board. (2013). Preliminary report (NTSB accident no.: DCA13MR003). Retrieved from http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/2013/bridgeport_ct/Bridgeport_CT_10_day_Preliminary_Report06042013.pdf, par. 5-6.

SCOTT R. BISSON, a 28-year veteran of the fire service, is an assistant chief at the Fairfield (CT) Fire Department, where he serves as chief of operations and shift commander “B” platoon. He is a recent graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and has a B.S. in fire science and communications from the University of Maryland. He is also a hazmat group supervisor with the Fairfield County Hazardous Incident Response Team, a past director of training at the Fairfield Regional Fire School, and a sworn deputy fire marshal.

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN is an assistant chief with the Bridgeport (CT) Fire Department. He has more than 36 years of urban fire department experience in Connecticut’s largest city and is assigned to Battalion 1 on the west side. He has attended numerous courses and conferences throughout his career.

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