911 Dispatchers Work Round the Clock to Help People Displaced by Train Wreck and Ensuing Fire

At least 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Blount County, Tennessee, after a train car carrying a flammable hazardous chemical derailed and caught fire. The car carried Acrylonitrile—a chemical used in the manufacturer of plastics such as acrylic fibers.

Dispatchers in the Blount County 911 Dispatch Center are working 12-hour shifts until evacuees are able to return home. Five 911 dispatchers were working at the call center on July 3, 2015, while others were in the field helping to defuse problems “in the hot zone.”

Supervisor Donna Burnette was quoted by WBIR as saying she received about 400 calls in the first night following the derailment. While calls about the derailment itself slowed down following the initial crisis, dispatchers are getting calls about health and water safety. Residents are calling in and asking about symptoms, so the dispatchers have a list of symptoms of exposure to the chemical.

The rail car burned for hours before responders could extinguish the flames. Dozens of people went to Blount Memorial Hospital to be treated for possible chemical exposure, although none of the exposures was life threatening. Ten of the people treated were emergency responders who complained of burning eyes. Most of the symptoms manifested as respiratory problems, and the most likely treatment for them is clean oxygen.

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The train cars are owned by CSX which is working closely with first responders and the EPA to set up air and water monitoring in the area. In addition, the EPA has called in the US Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team.

The train was heading to Waycross, Georgia from Cincinnati. Other cars on the train carried propane and asphalt.

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