Floyd County CERT team receives training from Findlay All Hazards

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

Rick Hoffman doesn’t wear a headset and there is no need for a clipboard to implement his gameplan.

Although there won’t be a football in sight near his “sideline,” he’s definitely a coach who will get your attention.  

Hoffman is part of the Findlay All Hazards Team that stopped by the old middle school in Charles City on Thursday to provide training for the Floyd County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

The Findlay team is part of the University of Findlay and is made possible by a grant awarded by the Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The main focus of the 8-hour class, which is offered free of charge, was rail car incident response, specifically involving crude oil, ethanol and propane spills after a rail accident.

Hoffman isn’t shy about using football metaphors to get his message across.

“What we’re doing and all these people together have got to remember — it’s a football team. You can’t just have a bunch of people that don’t know what they’re doing, so you got to practice together. Today is practice-together day,” said Hoffman, who has been an instructor at the University of Findlay for more than 18 years.

Hoffman specializes in hazmat awareness and training rural fire departments across the country about the dangers of derailed cars that can leak flammable liquids. Findlay All Hazards has taught the skills and training classes in all 50 states, reaching more than 10,000 people in 600 classes.

Findlay All Hazards, based out of Ohio, brings trailer replicas of the tops of rail cars that feature pressurized valves that can be shut off and turned on depending on the circumstance in response to accident scenarios.

“This is exactly what a propane rail car looks like on the top. They would not be fixing that,” Hoffman said, referring to the CERT members. “But they need to know if it is leaking, what’s leaking? So they kind of know how to handle it.”

Hoffman said the CERT’s main task is to isolate the spill from a safe distance and move people away or evacuate them.

“That isn’t them getting on top of here, that is the hazmat team to fix this stuff,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman did break out his “playbook” in order to drive home a point when it comes to controlling emergency situations.

“That’s why we have three strategies — offense, defense, and what’s the third one? Non-intervention. We don’t call it retreat, we call it non-intervention,” he said.

Hoffman said offense would be going on top of the rail car and manipulating the valves or putting a kit on them. Defense is digging a ditch or creating a berm to stop the spill or the fire. Non-intervention is moving away from the rail car because it’s on fire and might blow up.

Hoffman also gave some examples of the three-pronged approach in dealing with an extremely volatile situation when rail car accidents happen.

“If I’m in the middle of nowhere, why am I on top of here fixing it? I’m not. Let the rail people do that. I’m not endangering my fire department or my hazmat personnel to fix a leak in the middle of nowhere,” said Hoffman.

“Now if we’re in the middle of town and this stuff is pouring and is flowing into these houses and can kill people, I need to stop or slow this down.”

After the afternoon session, all the volunteer members of CERT regrouped and one of the topics was learning about applying foam to stop a fire.

Lezlie Weber, Floyd County emergency management director, said she was happy that Findlay All Hazards made the trek from Ohio to give tips about what to do should such a  potentially explosive incident take place in Floyd County.

“That was my overall goal, was to kind of get the whole group working together understanding the situation,” said Weber. “We have the knowledge of what they’re doing up there, we’re doing back here, and then everyone else is doing all the way out.”