Preview of Fire and Rescue Q4: Mayhem on rails

Published:  01 November, 2013

Sinisa Jembrih, Zagreb Fire Department (Croatia) together with Boštjan Triler and Primož Štraus from Zavod vizija varnosti report on an impressive international railway exercise that took place in Slovenia.

Slovenian company Zavod Vizija Varnosti in partnership with Slovenian Railways took the lead in a major emergency railway training exercise that took place in Kamnik, 19-21 September 2013. The co-organisers were the Slovenian Association of Firefighters, the Slovenian Professional Firefighter Association and the Municipality of Kamnik.

The exercise was designed specifically for first responders who deal with railway accidents (including technical response) and mass casualty disasters in railway tunnels. For the duration of the exercise a section of the Slovenian railway system was closed and alternative transport arranged between the stations for passengers.

The first day of training began with a briefing for all the participants covering the basics for the next three days.

The majority of the participants slept on the actual training site and two large heated sleeping tents were erected to accommodate 120 responders from Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. A smaller tent was given over to organisers, instructors and kitchen staff.

Day 1 focussed on the theoretical aspects of the exercise. Participants were introduced to Slovenian Railways’ system of protection and rescue in the case of an accident. The Slovenian Police presented the relevant procedures, including; their system for emergency response in the case of a railway accident; the steps followed by negotiators (in the case of a train hijacking); and the identification process of fatalities in the case of a mass casualty accident.

'Theory day' closed with an interesting analysis of a mass accident on a highway viaduct between Napoli and Bari (Italy), and a presentation covering a serious railway accident that took place in Divača (Slovenia) in 1984. The afternoon session also saw the Special Unit of the Slovenian Police explaining how it would react in the case of the hijacking of a train; use of a trailer for mass casualty incidents; and capabilities of an unmanned helicopter which can record and monitor the situation from the air.

Day 2 covered concentrated on practical experience and participants were divided into six groups taking turns to undergo six different practical tasks.

Task 1 involved a railway tunnel where a preliminary stabilisation of a train had to be performed. The team had to quickly bond together in a dark environment and then prepare an entry path on a passenger coach; ready the necessary equipment for a technical intervention; perform primary triage; and use different equipment to transport the victims. All the participants were under ITLS (International Trauma Life Support) instructors’ supervision. ITLS has become the basic program in Slovenia on training medical and other first responders that provide the first aid.

Task 2 was a road traffic incident. A car had landed on its roof on a very steep slope positioned over the railway tunnel entrance. The participants had to use basic rope techniques to make a descent to the incident site; stabilise the car on the slope; transport all the equipment from the road; perform a technical intervention and primary triage; and safely transport injured persons back up the steep slope to a safe location on the road. Despite the extraordinarily difficult terrain the participants had to provide the necessary aid to the injured persons in the car and transport them safely to the triage point. Apart from the fire instructors, this task was also supervised by members of the Mountain Rescue Service.

Task 3 involved a bus that had slipped off the road and become immobile on a steep slope next to the entrance of the railway tunnel. The task required responders to perform stabilisation and primary triage and then to transport the injured persons from the bus to the triage point. The responders were presented with several victims with a variety of injuries ranging from minor to severe. Who should be treated first? What is the right approach for treating an injured person trapped under debris? Should CPR be carried out on the bus driver with severe injuries or should an infant that is crying in the back of the bus be treated first? An ITSL instructor advised on how to perform the tasks as safely and as quickly as possible.

A car that had collided with a heavy railway bogie comprised Task 4. An initial inspection of the site was crucial to determine the proper primary stabilisation of the load on the bogie, the bogie itself and the car under the bogie. A pneumatic lifting program and various tightening straps were used for the stabilisation. Primary triage followed the stabilisation and then a technical intervention on the car was performed. An ITLS instructor outlined the possible injuries that are common with this type of incident. Finally, the extracation of the injured persons took place.

An overturned railway tank used for the transportation of dangerous goods formed the focus for Task 5. It was crucial first to identify the hazardous material. A railway instructor explained the characteristics of the railway tank. The task required that the responders stabilise the tank; use different methods for sealing the tank; limit the spillage; secure the area; perform a technical intervention on the car in which an injured and contaminated person was trapped; and perform a quick decontamination. The participants were familiarised with typical injuries common to this type of incident (the crush syndrome, etc). With the assistance of an ITLS instructor a primary care and extracation of the injured person was performed.

A railway and a road tanker for the transport of dangerous substances awaited responders of Task 6. The focus here was learning the different ways of pumping; the safety elements of the tanks; and the full decontamination of equipment and people.

In the evening of Day 2 there was a presentation outlining the most important elements of a mass balloon incident that took place in Ljubljana marshes in 2012.

Day 3 was planned as a mass casualty scenario. Former workers from a neighbouring factory want revenge following the loss of their jobs. Initially they intend to steal a railway tank from the factory in which they used to work and transport it to Ljubljana, where they would release the dangerous substance from the tank. On an industrial siding connected to the station they manually vent the wagon and remove the braking skids. The rails, on a downwards slope from the factory towards the station, cause the wagon to move on its own. The wagon achieves a relatively high speed but as the railway branch has been set in the position “move prohibited”, the wagon derails. While derailing, it crashes into a stationary wagon that was pumping flammable liquid into a road tanker. This results in a number of fatalities and injuries.

The ex-factory workers then decide to hijack a passenger train that is waiting to depart from the station towards Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. They force the train driver to depart at full speed, but 500m from the station the train collides with a car that is crossing the railway tracks.  Nevertheless the hijackers force the train driver to proceed at full speed, pushing the car in front of the train. In the tunnel, the car jams between the walls and locomotive, which causes the train to stop. There are several persons trapped in the vehicle. It is assumed that there are several persons dead or injured aboard the train. Some of them stuck under the seats, some of the wagons damaged, panic on the train, some passengers are trying to escape by jumping off the train, etc.

The hijackers continue to try to set the train on fire and murder the passengers. At the time of the car and train collision, a bus drives down the adjacent hill. The bus driver tries to prevent a collision with the train and brakes hard, resulting in the bus (full of passengers) tipping over. There are several persons injured in the bus.

The complexity and multi-dimentional nature of the incident on the third and final day meant the involvement of more than 120 firefighters; about 100 health workers with 30 ambulances and a rescue motorbike; many army rescue workers; members of the Special Police Force; the National Forensic Lab; criminal police; police hostage negotiators; the Institute for Forensic Medicine; guides with rescue dogs; unmanned helicopter with live streaming; and a number of  workers of Slovenian Railways amongst others. The headquarters were stationed inside a command vehicle for intervention support.

At the incident site there were almost 100 acting victims with simulated injuries. Twenty dummies indicated fatalities. The instructors came from Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. The logistics team was responsible for the technical support on the site, while an onsite catering facility prepared over 500 meals for all the participants. Just before 2 pm, following an intervention by the Police Special Forces, a team of firefighters and rescue workers finished their work on the hijacked train. An analysis of the training accident followed, and the training day ended.

The three-day exercise will be remembered for spectacular simulations in a realistic environment, where participants worked without any previous preparation. The organisational effort for the exercise had started less than a year in advance, involving dozens of meetings and piles of correspondence – all necessary for the coordination of the ground for the high-quality exercise.

Participants in the exercise experienced a great opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills in many areas, including: the use of hydraulic tools in a worst possible case scenario (a total of 18 cars, three buses, a road tanker and a passenger wagon were all cut apart); the stabilisation of heavy loads; use of ITLS in real simulations; and a test of leadership at multiple levels, etc.

The training would certainly not have been possible without the help of many individuals and institutions, too numerous to list here.

In conclusion, we would like to add that arrangements are underway for a third Zavod Vizija Varnosti exercise!

  • Operation Florian

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