GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Much of the East Palestine, Ohio, a village of 5,000 residents along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, was deserted Monday after a massive train derailment over the weekend. More than 370 miles away, Rob Hartung was watching the news and worried.
For 26 years, Hartung has lived just a block from train tracks that cut through his southeast Grand Rapids neighborhood.
“I worry about them derailing. That’s a big worry of mine,” Hartung said. “And then the fires, like the one in Ohio. Something like that happening could be catastrophic because a lot of people live around here.“
There’s a lot of dangerous stuff on the miles and miles of railroad track and roadways in and around Grand Rapids. Containment and cleanup of any spills throughout much of the West Michigan region is the duty of the 36-member Grand Rapids Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team.
“We’re always concerned about life safety, we’re always concerned about property conservation, we’re always concerned about the environment, in those orders,” GRFD Capt. Mike Witteveen said.
If you’re in the middle of a hazmat situation, your first thought may be to evacuate. But that may not be the best move. Evacuation routes may be too dangerous to travel, and emergency management officials may not have not figured out the safest area to send you to early on. That’s why you need to get a plan together to shelter in place. That means more than just closing doors and windows.
“You try to shut off your HVAC, your air conditioning or your furnace. And any gaps that you have in the seal of the house, you try to block that up so you’re not getting air from the outside into your home,” Kent County Emergency Management Director Matt Groesser said.
Information is also key. Local emergency planners, like GRFD, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office and the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, have a list of ways to get prepared beforehand. If there is an emergency, TV stations like WOOD TV8 will have the information you’ll need. And keep your phone handy.
“The wireless emergency alerts on your cellphone would be one way that we would notify you what we recommend you do to keep yourself safe,” Groesser said.
“Also we have a reverse 911 system,” Witteveen said. “Basically any area that’s affected, with a cellphone, those towers, we can ping people that are on those towers and make sure that they are aware of what’s going on.”