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La Crosse Fire chief discusses ways to prepare for train derailments



More than a month after the Ohio train derailment, firefighters around the country continue to talk about how they could be ready to respond to such an accident. 

La Crosse Fire Chief Jeff Schott says he tries to keep in touch with the BNSF and Canadian Pacific railroads about avoiding problems.

FILE – La Crosse Fire Chief Jeff Schott in the WIZM studio Dec. 8, 2022, for La Crosse Talk PM.

“I know Burlington Northern in particular does surveys on their tracks,” Schott said, “they do regular maintenance, I see them weekly. I drive over the railroad tracks daily, sometimes multiple times a day. They do have a presence there.”

Schott has had experience with similar rail accidents in this area, which were much less hazardous than the East Palestine, Ohio, crash involving toxic chemicals. 

He recalled a 2015 derailment in Alma, Wis., where ethanol spilled out of rail cars along the Mississippi River. 

FILE – The cleanup of portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio, continues on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Schott says emergency workers never know how many people will be needed to respond to such an accident.

“It’s just not a situation you can just say, well, we need 200 people to go do this,” Schott said. “It’s more of, you need the right people to assess the situation to determine the amount of resources, and then those resources will come to you, as they did with the Alma train derailment.”

At Alma, 25 rail cars went off the tracks, mainly carrying empty auto racks, and tanker cars filled with ethanol.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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