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Firefighters stage mock disaster

By Staff
RESCUE EXERCISE Firefighters, police officers and emergency workers lower a dummy representing a railroad engineer to the ground Tuesday during a mock disaster at Meridian's police and fire training site on Sandflat Road. In the foreground are Randy Cox of the Clarke County Emergency Management Agency, left, and John Griffith of the Clarke County Sheriff's Department. Closer to the train are Roger Welborn of the Meridian Police Department, partially hidden, and Kevin Goveia of the Gulfport Fire Department. Greg Riley of the Naval Air Station Meridian Fire Department is crouching in the door, and Neil Belding of the Crystal Springs Fire Department is leaning out of the window. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
June 26, 2002
No one knows when an Amtrak passenger train will be involved in an accident, but a group in Meridian is learning how to respond should a catastrophe ever occur in their hometown.
A mock disaster was staged Tuesday at Meridian's police and fire training site on Sandflat Road. There, trainees "rescued" staff and passengers from overturned Amtrak cars.
A federal grant to the nonprofit Triple I Corp. is helping prepare nearly 20 emergency responders and fire and law enforcement rescuers for train disasters whether a medical emergency, a minor fire on board or a full-scale derailment.
David Sharp, a Meridian Fire Department training officer, said he has been to all of the rescue schools at the state Fire Academy and that "they prepare us for most of the stuff that we run into."
Kevin Goveia, a paramedic engineer with the Gulfport Fire Department, said he thought the training was going well Tuesday.
Tough drills
Goveia said that the drill is pretty tough. "You have to be up to date on your rope rescue" and work in confined spaces, he said.
He acknowledged it's easy to get confused when entering rail cars turned the wrong way. "When you actually get in there, you have got to realize where you are," he said.
Ken Shelton, a firefighter at the Meridian Naval Air Station and a former volunteer firefighter in New Jersey, also complimented the class.
Allan McCluer, the training officer at the Ridgeland Fire Department, said he has received a lot of good information. He said he plans to take it back and "do more or less the same class for our guys."
Louis Heblon, a retired Meridian Fire Department captain who played a drunken passenger in the drill, said the training is "exactly what I expected."
Good preparation
Arthur Candenquist of Washington is Amtrak's manager of emergency preparedness.
Candenquist said that the participants will "at least have the tools and the knowledge on how to deal with it in a way that's going to be easier for them in terms of safety around the railroad environment, as well as be able to focus on the emergency situation and take care of Amtrak's passengers and crews to the best extent that they can."
Candenquist said that it's not so much a few seconds meaning all the difference as "just the fact the fire and rescue and law enforcement and EMS folks know what they're dealing with before they get on the scene."
Sonny Partridge, retired from the Meridian Fire Department and currently chief of the Vimville Volunteer Fire Department, said that he has been "very fortunate" in that he has never had to work a passenger train derailment.