Capdiamont\’s Weblog

WN:Railcar fire puts firefighters at risk
Friday 21 Dec 2007, 07:50
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

Thanks to Mike B. for the tip. The article has a photo of the interior of the passenger car after the fact. It says to click on it to enlarge it, but it didn’t work for me. There is many things wrong with this. A person regardless of who they are doesn’t deserve to be beaten. In this case they were beaten, and trapped to die. Fortunately the firefighters got them out. These are passenger cars, with history. The NCRA has made an attempt to board them up, and lock them up. How much more you want the to do, or can they do? Enforcing no trespassing on the property somehow? Put up fences, so people can cut holes in them? Got off the phone, with Humboldt FD. The risk of plastics burning, is the toxic gas they give off, while they are arriving on site, and not wearing their masks(wind changes), plus the plastic continues to off gas even after the fire is out. Thus the photographer for the newspaper was exposed to the toxics if not wearing a mask. Plus the poor person trapped in the railcar.

The Mask they wear is a full face mask with positive air flow. A full face mask covers the eyes, nose, and mouth. A half mask just covers nose, and mouth. PositiveĀ  air flow means the air is supplied by tank, or pump. This makes it so any problem with the seal of the mask, the air flows out of the mask, keeping the contaminated air out.

By Linda Williams/TWN Staff Writer
Article Launched: 12/21/2007 11:29:37 AM PST

For the 10th time in two years, Little Lake Fire Department firefighters put their lives on the line fighting a fire on railroad property at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, December 18. Fires in the railcars are particularly hazardous to handle due to the close quarters, intense flames and to a variety of toxic substances produced by burning plastics.

On Tuesday morning, officers from the Willits Police Department responded to a report of smoke at the cars. According to firefighters, a transient was beaten severely and the assailants set the cars on fire. The transient was then trapped in the burning car, unable to escape. Willits police officers were able to cut a chain and free the injured man. One man was subsequently arrested for felony assault associated with the incident.

Responding firefighters had to assume there might be another person trapped within the burning car and planned their fire fighting response accordingly. This meant firefighters, put their own lives at risk entering the blazing inferno to make sure everyone had gotten out, rather than just allowing the cars to burn to the ground.

“Fires in passenger cars are especially hazardous; the railcar shell is all steel, the glass is bullet proof and the aisles are narrow making it very difficult for someone to get out. The heat builds up rapidly and the toxic fumes are extremely dangerous,” says Fire Chief Jeff Smith. “Firefighters are getting upset because nothing is being done to remove the hazards; asking them to risk their lives in a search and rescue time and time again.”

It took four hours on Tuesday morning for the 15 volunteer firefighters to put the fire out. Most of the volunteers then had to report to their normal jobs.

The fire department is preparing a letter to the North Coast Railroad Authority advising them of the department’s dissatisfaction with the existing situation.

The burden of policing the railcar area falls upon the Willits police. “We have been dealing with the problems of transients, fires and vandalism associated with the railcars for a long time,” says Willits Police Chief Gerry Gonzalez. “We have arrested vagrants, issued citations and little has been done by the district attorney about them. We have begun forwarding all the items now to the city attorney as well. The situation is a hazard to police officers as well as firefighters.”

“We have been in dialogue with the NCRA for months about the situation,” says Willits City Manager Ross Walker. The city attorney is also looking into what other action the city can take to alleviate the situation.

The office of Mitch Stogner, executive director of the NCRA was contacted, but the director did not return the call before press time.

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