December 2017

Pierce County, Wash., First Responders Scramble to Scene of Fatal Train Derailment


By Mary Ann Barton
      NACo Senior Staff Writer


About 100 Pierce County, Washington, first responders scrambled to the scene of an Amtrak train derailment December 18 that killed several passengers after it jumped the track and dangled over a busy interstate during morning rush hour.

“We’ve had some major events, but nothing like this,” said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, who arrived at the scene after getting a call about the incident at 7:40 a.m. PT.

County first responders worked to get nearly 80 injured passengers off the train, Amtrak Cascades 501, which derailed just south of Tacoma on the maiden voyage of a new route.

“The unstable cars were our biggest concern after the crash,” Troyer said. “At this point we need to shore up some train cars in order to get in and search. Anybody who is left in there is catastrophically injured.” Although no one driving on Interstate 5 during the busy morning commute was killed, some were injured when the train cars hit several cars and at least one semi-truck, according to Troyer.

The county immediately established an incident command at a restaurant and golf course within a quarter-mile from the crash scene, Troyer said. “They’ve been very cooperative, we have all the power we need there,” he noted. “We have a media staging area for sat trucks, with national media starting to show up.”

Pierce County kept residents apprised of the situation by running a crawl on its website from the Washington State Patrol and also posted photos and information about traffic and reports from the scene from the sheriff’s department Twitter feed.

Troyer noted that the incident was something the county has trained for at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md. “We’re trained up and it worked,” he said, “unfortunately some people lost their lives.” As of about 3:30 p.m. on the day of the crash no official death toll from the had been released.

Pierce County first responders worked closely with their counterparts from neighboring Thurston County as well as the city of Lakewood, located in Pierce County. “We’ll be here all day, all night and probably into the next day,” Troyer said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), declared a state of emergency: “I know our first responders are doing everything to ensure everyone has the care they need,” he said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported the train was traveling at 81.1 MPH in a 30 MPH zone before hitting a curve and derailing over Interstate 5.

Reprinted from NACo County News, December 19.


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