Practice is Key for Incident Response on Rail Systems

Posted on October 25, 2017 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

SEPTA provides awareness training that allows firefighters and paramedics to practice their response procedures for rail incidents. Photo: SEPTA
SEPTA provides awareness training that allows firefighters and paramedics to practice their response procedures for rail incidents. Photo: SEPTA
Working in subway tunnels is difficult under any circumstances and when you have to maneuver around an electrified third rail in an environment with less lighting, the task is even more daunting. Now imagine what it is like during an emergency — a train with equipment issues, someone struck, or smoke in the tunnel — and you need to evacuate a vehicle packed with passengers. For transportation crews that work on the trains every day, their equipment familiarity is key to a safe, quick incident response.

But what about fire and rescue personnel called to the scene of a crisis? They are well-prepared to handle injuries and fires, but where do they access the tracks, hook up hoses, or open vehicle doors?  

A training seat is part of the exercise. Photo: SEPTA
A training seat is part of the exercise. Photo: SEPTA

Every year, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) partners with the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) on awareness training that allows firefighters and paramedics to practice their response procedures to an emergency on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line subway.

“We are fortunate to live in a city that has one of the most elite fire response agencies in the nation,” said Jim Fox, SEPTA’s assistant GM, System Safety. “Allowing PFD crews to work with our station and vehicle equipment before an incident occurs not only enhances their skills, the exercise assures our passengers that emergency personnel are ready for any situation they might encounter.”

Firefighters review how to open doors of SEPTA trains. Photo: SEPTA
Firefighters review how to open doors of SEPTA trains. Photo: SEPTA

Over the course of a month, SEPTA System Safety officers conducted subway awareness training sessions for firefighters and medics whose stations have first alarm assignments to those locations.  

“We value our partnership with SEPTA,” said Adam K. Thiel, PFD Commissioner.  “This specialized training is critically important to our mission of keeping people safe 24x7x365.” 

The exercises are designed as a refresher and to reach firefighters and paramedics that are new to the PFD or to firehouses near Broad Street Line stations. SEPTA representatives review the locations of alarms and hose hook-ups, the process for requesting third rail power shut off, how to open doors of trains that are disabled without power and evacuating passengers from a train, including reviewing the location of emergency exits from street level.

Emergency exit training. Photo: SEPTA
Emergency exit training. Photo: SEPTA

SEPTA also supplies PFD firehouses located near subway stations with keys that open tunnel emergency exits and radios that provide a direct line of communication with Authority personnel during an emergency. The awareness exercises allowed SEPTA to ensure PFD has the correct tools and that they are functional.

“You have to be able to get to and into the train as quickly as possible, to get your evacuation procedure up and running," Fox said. "You don’t want to get to the scene of an incident and find that your equipment isn’t working or that you have to really search for anything you will need.”

After the last session in mid-October, SEPTA had trained more than 400 PFD firefighters and medics in 2017.   

Heather Redfern is the Public Information Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

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